I wonder. How many authors remember when they began the long, frustrating journey? To me, it’s not a lost moment. Maybe that’s a function of age. I don’t know.
Like all kids, I had obediently written what was required of me in school, though it was often shorter than required because I disliked, or was bored by, the subject matter. I was also left cold most of the time by the “set books” that we were required to read, either as a group or individually, for review. I think I only ever wrote two reviews worthy of the name, while at school. During this period of growth, however, I was reading significant numbers of books that I genuinely enjoyed. Books that I chose for myself. Nor were these books aimed at my age group. They were “adult” books. Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke and many others filled my head with new ideas, new visions.
Is it that the potentiality of our imagination is enhanced, focussed, by what we read? Can it be said that reading actually elevates the daydream into something more real? Something with solidity? I can’t answer that, but it is how it seemed to me. The play world of childhood, which had been fading with the passing years, to some extent, suddenly blossomed again, but with greater vibrancy. An urgency was present, too. I didn’t want to rôleplay like a child (well, not entirely, anyway). There was something which drove me to need to recreate the visions in my mind using words, words put down upon paper, where they couldn’t escape from and become lost like other thoughts. I needed to capture them. It was then that I first picked up a pen with real, personal purpose.
I won’t pretend that what I wrote then were masterpieces. At first, few were longer than any other essays. My writing stamina was not yet developed. However, I had, by now, moved into the sphere of influence of a new English teacher. Needing an audience, I offered some of my scribblings to him for perusal. It was a matter of pride, and astonishment, that he actually encouraged me to continue writing, and to try to expand it to longer pieces! Made bold by this, I began to let the writing take control. I was no longer holding back. Before long, I had episodes where I became almost feverish in my efforts. I discovered that writer’s limbo, where you are no longer entirely here, but have become a part of the created world. Sadly, my handwriting suffered dreadfully, and it had never been brilliant to start with! Still, my English teacher continued to support and encourage me, with only the gentlest of comments about my handwriting. In two years, I produced a vast quantity of work. At the same time, I neglected my English coursework dreadfully. At my teacher’s suggestion, however, I included the best pieces of my fictions in my coursework binder. The hope was to influence the grade assessors that, while routine coursework was missing, my writing showed that I had an appropriate command of the English language. Unfortunately, at the last moment it became clear that I was going to come away with a terrible grade! Warned by my teacher, I was very unhappy. There seemed nothing I could do – it was far too late. Rescue came by inspiration. One element of the grade determination involved something that could not be written down: the Oral examination. If I did things correctly, I might avoid a total disaster. Happily, I succeeded, with an oral presentation that, according to my teacher, blew the examiners away! I leapt from verging on a “fail” to a second, which was a pass – enough for my purposes.
I owe that teacher, whose name is John Oliver, a great debt. I didn’t know until very late on, but apparently he was a published poet and had a great love of words. Without him, I doubt that I would be writing anything today.
I can still feel the bulbous form of the biro in my hand, and smell the ink that was so fond of either stuttering or depositing unsightly blots on the paper. I remember how, early on, when an idea was fresh and new, and so powerful I couldn’t ignore the drive to write, I faced blank paper without fear. It was later that the “blank page” syndrome reared its ugly head. In the earliest years, the sensations and fire involved in writing somehow became inextricably linked in my mind with the smell of old paperbacks, and the feel of their browning pages. I couldn’t know, then, but I had gained my first addiction – the written word.