I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I write. Like any good narrative psychologist I automatically turned to the story of my life and tried to remember when I first loved writing. I cast my mind back to school, as far back as I could remember into the blue and green splattered paint, the sparkling new decimal coins in their blue plastic folder and the tick-tick-tick of a measuring wheel until I reached a poem.
I was six years old and I wrote this poem:
In winter trees are bare
And robins are in the air
Children sledge on a hill
Off, off and away.
And what a lovely sight,
Snowflakes are falling
All gentle and white.
I can remember my teacher blushing pink and taking the poem from me, asking my mother who had written it. Of course, she too thought I had copied it from somewhere and rushed me home to scan the only poetry book we owned, by Patience Strong. I was punished for lying about that poem. I did write it.
Later, I wrote a novel called ‘A Secret Life’. I loved writing the story, set in my local area, and relished researching the colours of the countryside, the knotty roots where Sarah would have walked. Sarah was my great grandmother, living my grandmother’s life mixed in with mine. The novel wasn’t true, but a mixture of the several truths into a brand new fiction.
Shortly after the novel, I wrote a short story which was published in ‘best’ magazine. I was paid for publication and it meant that I was a ‘real author’. I embarked on a fact finding mission to see if I could write a non-fiction book about domestic violence, but was curtly advised by a sub-editor that unless I had a qualification in the area it was unlikely that I would be published.
My writing turned in a different direction, toward academia. In the meantime I became deeply entranced by Tolkien and Terry Pratchett and other means of escape from what my own life had become. The worlds that they had created became my world, where I could go at any time and search for deeper, deeper meaning than my shallow painful existence could provide externally. In the pause between my early bout of fiction writing and my later reactivated fiction writing, I relied on fiction to provide alternative realities where I could cower until my life improved.
I also have an interest in postmodernism and quantum physics. Both these subjects touch on the way that reality is contextualised by sensory perception and standpoint, and that all concepts are created through language. In my own life, reading and writing has provided an elongated reality where I can create, be and retreat according to what is happening in my external world. Both quantum physics and postmodernism question the concept of truth as a final destination, that there are as many truths as there are unique experiences. Of course, this is postured against the argument that if there is not truth, how can that statement even be true…
Anyhow, returning to my poem that I wrote when I was six years old. I still believe that I wrote it. My teacher had her doubts but on seeing my subsequent work believed me. My mother still thinks I am a liar. Each of these people have their own take on what happened, for their own reasons. Each of those people have, to a greater or lesser degree, and alternative reality they can slip into when reading fiction, and each will apply their own concept to the meaning or ‘truth’ of each story they read.
So, if I multiply all the books I have ever read by all the people who have ever read them, I still marvel at the way words can conjure up memories and concepts, and how each reader’s experience is slightly different. Each story generates a different scenario for different people based on, for example, what a picture of an oak tree or a board room or a horse, would be.
In terms of individual experience, the uniqueness of memory is mind blowing. Extended to the way we experience words, each person’s perception dependant on unique experiences and memory, then overlayed onto other people’s stories, the boundaries of imagination are limitless.
I felt this as a child. The freedom to play with words, which became tighter as I got older and more inhibited, was key to my happiness as a lonely, shy child. As a teenager I was helped by my English teacher, Mr Welsh, who told me I should never stop writing. My external life from my mid-teens was tortured at worst and restrained at best. I never stopped wanting to write, and even though a middle-class writing group that I attended with one of my postmodern offering, ‘The Purple Man’ sat in embarrassed silence as I read in my poem in a broad Lancashire accent, I wasn’t put off.
Writing was my ‘truth’ at six years old, when I was called a fraud. Today, shaped by my life experience and it’s a very different and slightly cynical ‘truth’. Of course, when writing fiction, it isn’t supposed to be truth, and this isn’t the kind of truth I mean.
It’s the inner drive of simply having to get the idea or story down on paper, to create and to record something that is, in essence, a figment of the imagination, that feels somewhere near to fusing your truth with someone elses truth for the duration of the story, a union of mutual appreciation that is at once external and internal for the reader and the writer. What better display of quantum physics and time-bending? A delayed, time-stepped reaction to an alternative reality created and recorded in the past. A link to a world that someone else has imagined and which can be shared by another person at a much much later date, with many of the concept commonalities remaining. A kind of conceptual time travel, covering hundreds of years in some cases, thousands in others, the transferal of concepts and a relative truth from a time when no-one now can even remember.
Reading my poem now, I get a feel for a misty half remembered world before my confidence crumbled into adolescence. I asked my mother and she time travelled back to a time when she struggled with three young children and lost her temper over a silly copied poem. Different memories, different situated truths, but the both of us remembered the central concept of the winter and the snow.