I remember the first poem I ever wrote. I was eight and it was about a robot. And it was rubbish. My teacher, a lovely man who believed in taking the robust approach, told me it wasn’t a poem and that I should try again. So I did. It was called Mountains, and it won a certificate in the Cadbury’s National Children’s Poetry Competition. The top prize winners received chocolatey comestibles, as well as publication in an anthology, but, as a first-timer, I was pretty happy with the certificate. I still have it somewhere and, having taken my teacher’s advice to heart, I have been trying again ever since. To me, there’s no greater escape (even when there’s nothing to escape from) and no greater adventure than playing around with words. And, besides, I’ve yet to think how else one person, living one life, in one place and spanning only a few decades, can gain a toe-hold in thousands of other lives, other places and other times.
Nowadays although I still write poetry and have even had some of it published, I write other stuff too: short stories, travel pieces, flash fiction and, to date, two and a half novels. Some of it is, like the robot poem, unquestionably rubbish – or at least eighty-five drafts short of OK-ish – but some of it I actually quite like. If you are interested, there are links to a few of my published pieces under the “Writing” tab.
My first (completed effort at a) novel, How to Cook on Safari, which now graces my bottom drawer, was long listed in the 2013 Mslexia Novel Competition. It subsequently attracted some interest from agents, two of whom provided extremely generous and constructive criticism on the full manuscript that went a long way to making that bottom drawer a shinier, better constructed place. But, more importantly, it left me better equipped to write novel number two: The Gardener’s Boy. While Safari, as the title suggests, is set half a world away from me in Africa, The Gardener’s Boy is set in the Birkenhead and Liverpool of my childhood and the London of my young adult life – albeit sixty-five years before I was born. It has a garden, a young man who does not dare to hope for any future other than the one that was laid out for him when he was a small child and a young woman who perhaps dares to hope for too much. The struggle for women’s rights – at the ballot box, in higher education and over their own bodies – and the growing call for greater social equality provide both the backdrop for their story and the machinery that ultimately threatens to take it beyond their control.
For the time being, The Gardener’s Boy also lives in that same bottom drawer while I ponder what to do with it: a series of connected short stories is my current idea. In the meantime, I’m writing novel number three. Although, at the back of my mind, I hear an echo of what another of my favourite teachers once said (‘I’ll watch out for your first book’), I’m realistic enough to know that publication – at least in its traditional sense – may never happen. That’s knowledge that is not as difficult to live with as I once thought. When all is said and done, enjoyment and escapism is the beginning, the end and the everything-in-between of why I write. It’s also why I have this blog. If you find yourself here, do say hello; it would be lovely to meet you.
(With acknowledgments to Emily Dickinson and Isabelle Eberhardt for my awesome home page quotations.)