Odd how things pop up, reminding you of things.
I’ve explored a lot of such places as a child and as an adult, they still fascinate me.
I’d like to tell you a story.
Once upon a time I was a bookish, somewhat geeky teenager with ambitions to become a writer who had her confidence and self-belief knocked back. I’d started writing very young and by ten had written my first novel. By fourteen, I’d written several more and I approached one of the English teachers at my school for feedback. Sometime later, he asked me to stay behind after school so we could talk about it. Needless to say, opening the discussion with the words, “How do you tell a mother that her baby is ugly,” wasn’t perhaps the best way, because for many years it was THOSE words rather than the much more constructive stuff that followed, which stayed with me. The rest of what he said was something that also stayed, but shoved away in a dark box somewhere in a corner of my mind, and I took it out and looked at it from time to time. I took comfort that he felt I was a born writer, but was troubled by the fact that he felt that my chosen genre at that time was not what he saw me writing. I loved detective fiction so that’s what I wrote. There’s some irony in the fact that the books published by J.K Rowling under the pen name Robert Galbraith are quite close to the plots I came up with as a teenager, writing about private detective agencies investigating weird and horrible crimes.
Anyway, some of his advice was to read and to read as widely as I could. This I did. A year or so after this, he organised a couple of visits to the school by authors of what might now be termed Young Adult fiction. I recall I met Nicholas Fisk and then John Gordon. For these events, we were asked to produce something to send to the authors. I really liked John Gordon and he spent half an hour with me after his talk (turns out I was the only kid who wrote anything for him!) and he gave me some very good encouragement and real kindness.
The story I wrote for him is lost, somewhere. It might be stuffed in one of the removals crates that I keep old MSS in, handwritten and fading. I don’t know. But when I moved house three years ago, a removal man dumped the contents of my desk drawers into boxes and I was obliged to sort it all out. And I found not that story but the one I wrote a year or two later, which was a kind of prequel to the tale I wrote for John Gordon. This one I had typed up on my old Brother portable and had sent it off to Woman’s Own when I was 21 and newly married. It earned me my very first rejection slip. Finding it again in my forties, possibly thirty years after I’d written it was odd, like a message in a bottle. The past is indeed a foreign country and they do do things differently there, but I found a whiff of who I once was and it heartened me. I could see I had a voice even then.
So two years ago, I took the elements of that story, plus what I could dredge up in my memory for the two other tales in that sequence, and I wrote another story. It came out as a longer short story or a short novella, and I published that a year ago.
It’s the tale of two authors: who I was and who I am.
PS. For a short time, it’s going to be a mere 99p or 99 cents, so grab it while it’s low.