In my childhood I improvised to survive. At times my life was as fictitious as the stories I read. Pretence was sometimes the only reality.
That’s what made me a writer.
I was eight when my father died. Though sad at his loss, I had no idea of the struggles that lay ahead. We were poor. Unlike the children around me, I had no pocket money. Clothes and shoes had to last as long as possible. Holidays were an escape from school, not a towel on a beach.
Education offered me a way out, but grammar school brought me face to face with children from wealthier backgrounds. Envious of what they had, I had to find more and more elaborate ways to disguise the fact I wasn’t one of them.
I resented being poor, especially when I took an interest in girls. I made excuses to avoid taking them home. I could have explained the rising damp was an experiment to determine the porosity of bricks. Had global warming been in the news, I could have used it to explain why we didn’t have central heating and wore coats around the house in winter.
Instead, I said my mother was ill and kept girlfriends as far away from my home as possible. In hindsight, I should have dated the girls from my estate, but grammar school made me judge people by their worth.
It led to an interesting double life.
At school, I was a loner, a studious kid, participating in a competition to see whose uniform would last the longest. Okay, I was the only entrant, but competing against myself made me work harder. I told everyone I preferred to spend my evenings reading books as TV was boring and full of repeats. This first part was true because we couldn’t afford a TV.
At home, I played football with the lads, hung around on street corners, and did my homework late at night. Many of the local kids didn’t bother with homework. There was no point when they were going to work in the paper mill opposite when they left school.
Reading lots of books carried me through tough times.
Books inspired me, gave me dreams and aspirations, brought me heroes like Atticus Finch. They fired my imagination, took me to new worlds like Narnia, and showed me every facet of human nature, conflict and courage.
Reading made me want to change the world, to fight poverty and inequality, to clean up the environment, to end ignorance and prejudice.
I wrote stories to express these aspirations and experiences. I’m not sure I did them justice, but my marks were high. But English was my favourite subject by miles.
I loved everything about words – their sounds, meanings and origins. Words had the power to mesmerise and transform. This made me unique in a school determined to drill science into every pupil’s psyche. But thanks to books, I refused to succumb, choosing artistic subjects instead.
English was also about communication, the ability to express ideas and ideals, to persuade others, to capture the beauty and horrors in the world. Unable to afford a camera, and with no TV, my imagination created adventures and worlds.
Being different and a bit of a loner made me a target. Useless with my fists, I learned how to talk my way out of trouble – often after I’d talked myself into it. Without books, the learning and the words, I would have been pummelled by bullies.
I learned to deceive, to imitate and to pretend to be just like them. The moment I discovered I would be judged by my poverty, I became an actor.
Spending so much time alone, my imagination became choked with ideas I needed to share. I had a desperate urge to express my ideas, to influence what people thought, to make them accept me as an equal.
The future becomes the past
Now, as I write, I feel the influence of the past in my words, my attitudes and values. That’s why my central character, Kent Fisher, comes from a background of poverty and loss. He fights for the underdog, for those who have no voice, such as animals, and for those who would otherwise be walked over.
Kent does what I was never brave enough to do in my youth – accept the unfairness, move on, take chances, take control.
He’s even taught me to take control.
I challenged myself to complete the first draft of my latest novel by the end of January.
It’s been a struggle, an exercise in doubt, a story I couldn’t bring to life. Doubt does that to you. Nothing is good enough. You feel a failure. But as one of my friends likes to say when she’s struggling, ‘I need to give myself a good kick up the arse.’
So I set myself a target of writing 10,000 words each working week in January. I’ve gone public, which means there’s nowhere to hide. I’ve told my readers the book will be published in May 2019.
So how did I do this first week?
I wrote 11,775 words, which surprised me, I can tell you. Better than that I
- ignored my smartphone, leaving it downstairs while I wrote.
- stopped wasting time on things that either distracted me or didn’t achieve anything, like checking emails, Facebook and Twitter, opening the post
- kept a low profile on social media
- planned the week ahead
I feel more motivated, more excited, more productive. As well as writing more words in each hour, I’ve increased my writing hours on at least three days of the week.
Best of all, the ideas are flowing once more, improving the story and I’m starting to believe I can do it.
And if you’d like to know more about the Kent Fisher murder mysteries, click here to visit my Amazon page. Or sign up to my reader group for more insights, updates and a sample first chapter from the novel I’m currently writing.
Something for the weekend
Is ‘horizon scanning’ the perfect subject for distance learning?