My daughter turns 14 next week. As is always the case at this time of year, I’m reflecting on the difference she has made to my life, what joy she has brought, and what lessons she has taught me.
And as I prepare for the publication of my first novel next year, my thoughts inevitably turn to the conversations she and I have had about writing and the creative process.
One night over dinner, when she was six, I had a most illuminating discussion with her. I wrote it down afterwards, in fact. (Little does she know I’m now turning it into a blog post. She’d either be mortified or chuffed. It’s hard to know with teenagers.)
We were talking about reading and stories (as we often still do), and Miss Six said to me matter-of-factly: “I have all sorts of stories inside me, Mummy, so when I’m alone I can take them out and read them.”
I was intrigued. I asked her to tell me one.
She put down her fork, closed her eyes, and murmured, “I’m looking through the pile…let me see…Ah! The bottom one.” She opened her eyes, smiled, and proceeded to tell the story.
The Eater Metre
Once there was a man who wanted to eat 12 ice creams really quickly, one after the other. Another man next to him said, “Watch out! You’d better hurry up, or the Eater Metre will eat them all!”
So he did.
There followed a very creative description of the Eater Metre, who was half-robot, half-man, and who ate lots and lots of food very quickly. (The name referred to the amount, or more accurately, the measurement of food he could consume in just a few seconds.)
The conversation surprised and moved me. I was struck by the ease with which Miss Six could create and access a rich internal universe. There were no constraints on her imagination. And when the lights went out at night, or when she was pottering about in her room, or as she played quietly in the early morning, she obviously drew on these wonderful imaginings to amuse and entertain herself. Sometimes she wrote her stories down, but mostly they were secret treasures, designed to keep her heart company and illustrate to her own little self her thoughts and hopes and wonderings about the world. What a gift.
It made me think about the stories we all have within us. Not literal stories like Miss Six’s, but the stories of our lives, our longings, our hopes and dreams; our own attempts at working out the world. They’re all in there. Sometimes it’s too painful or frightening to access them directly, so they emerge, sometimes insidiously, in other forms – in the choices we make, the partners we love and hate, the careers we build.
As a writer, I have the wonderful opportunity to transpose my internal world onto the page and share it. This doesn’t mean I tell you the literal story of my life with all its struggles and successes. Christ, you’d be bored to fecking tears. What I mean is, no matter how fictional my work is, it will always contain echoes of my personal universe. In this way I am able not only to tell a story, but also to create an outlet for my inner demons (and angels). And all this without harming anyone or getting arrested. Bonus.
I’ve posted before about how we can never escape ourselves when we write fiction. You can read that post, “Escaping Ourselves”, here. The key quote is this, I think:
“Things deep in your heart can surface: wounds from your childhood, a forgotten figure who meant the world to you, your complicated relationship with your parents, your true political leanings, your most closely guarded fears and longings. Almost like a therapist’s couch, only cheaper (but sometimes just as uncomfortable).
“Even if we do not write about these things explicitly, they are stubbornly there, resonating through the language in powerful and unexpected ways, gifting our writing its unique fingerprint.”
This is why I love writing. You never know where it will take you – but inevitably, perhaps, you always end up back at your own doorstep.