Where it began

A blank piece of paper.
An empty writing book.
The thrill of getting a brand new exercise book on the first day of term; the feel of the cover, the colour on the outside and those invitingly pale blue lines inside just waiting to be filled with your very own personal journey through the next few weeks of education. Remember?
God but I loved those new, fresh books. For me they were like a clean slate. Which I’m guessing is where the saying comes from. A clean slate. A new Term. A fresh start.
And I always tried to change my handwriting. I remember clearly trying to make my loops bigger, my dots more pronounced, my tees, whys and effs cursive to shame a mediaeval script and for the teacher to tell me how beautiful my writing was.
Which actually did happen once as my best friend and I jointly won a ‘Most Improved Handwriting’ award and my prize was ‘The Children of Cherry Tree Farm’ by Enid Blyton. The only downside being that my writing was obviously crap to start off with, if it had ‘improved’ so noticeably.
But that’s where it all began for me. That year. At that precise time. I just wanted to fill and fill and fill those waiting white pages up with as many lovely words as possible. My “most improved” written words. And I wanted everyone to read them and tell me how great they were. And the more encouragement I got from my lovely teacher, Mr East, at aged 9, the more I felt the need to cast aside the boring old “What I did at the Weekend” (all much of a sameness - I cleaned out the gerbils, I walked the dog, I ate some more seventies stodge and groaned at ‘Farming Diary’) and so I began to invent things to make the two days I spent away from school sound more interesting than they actually were.
Which heralded my first trip to see the Headmaster. A formidable, Captain Mainwaring of a man who stood far wider than he did tall in his brogues and who could turn stone to jelly with a single well-aimed query.
So, why hadn’t I told anybody that my “Policeman father (actually a butcher, but Policeman is way more exciting don’t you think?) had been mauled into Intensive Care at the weekend whilst trying to arrest three masked gunmen who had broken into our house and tried to make off with my mum’s diamond necklace (realistically glass - diamante at a push) before our Alsatian dogs (in truth one daft Mongrel who’d no more raise a bark than lick a poor intruder to death) savaged them to the ground and ripped their throats out”?
I clearly wasn’t giving out any indications of distress following my bloodbath of a weekend and was asked why this was.
And if The Simpsons had been on the telly back then, I’m sure I’d have given my favourite Homer quote in response to my total fabrication of creative genius:
“I’m not lying - I’m writing fiction with my mouth” (for “mouth” read “pen”).
So for me, fiction was just stuff that sounded far more interesting that my life actually was. And I liked it.
Oh, we had to have those three Alsatians put down of course and Dad’s never been the same since he hung up his Chief Superintendent hat and took that desk job at NASA. And Mum, well she keeps all her ‘bling’ firmly stitched inside her gold-leaf embroidered stocking-tops now. Next to her Colt .45.
And me? I write books. No, seriously, I do.


Old Kitty said...


Good for your Mr East who encouraged you!

My problem was that I was forever inventing stories about my family to all who cared to listen but I never took the time to write them down!


Take care

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Lovely! I've read that if you want to find your Purpose In Life you should return to yourself aged 8/9 and what you loved then.
Your Mr East was my Mr Bray. What a difference it makes when someone sees and 'gets' you...

Gillian McDade said...

What a great blog, Debs! I remember ‘The Children of Cherry Tree Farm’ by Enid Blyton really well. Hooray for Mr East. My Mr East was Mr Millin - hello if you are reading this.

Mary said...

Loved this post Debs. Could so identify with the new exercise book and the best writing too. In fact still experience the same joy when I start a new journal today! My Mr East was Mrs Mc Farlane at primary school who encouraged creative minds and good spelling.

Charmaine Clancy said...

Loved this, made me feel better for my addiction of notebooks - I purchase them all the time and LOVE the fresh new pages!

Rosalind Adam said...

I used to find it so boring having to write about what we did at the weekend. Well done you for making it a page turner.

I love notebooks but I don't think anyone has mentioned the smell of the paper. I could stand in a stationery shop and sniff new paper for hours... if it wasn't for all the weird looks I'd get.

DT said...

A great post and I love all the comments after it. It all goes to show that it's never too soon (or too late) to develop a writer's habits and that a moment of inspiration can last a lifetime. I'm intrigued by Susie's 8/9 year-old self idea, partly because the earliest school projects I can remember were on animals and on warfare. The blog post reminded me of the time in the US when I fictionalised my dad into an American working for the government in the midwest to avoid citizenship questions. They thought he worked for the CIA or in the underground installations out there. He would have been pleased, what with being a milkman based in Hackney!

Debs Riccio said...

Old Kitty - that's what families are for, right?!
Susie - like that idea. Appears to have worked for me.
Gillian - thanks - Sadly the original Mr East died a few years ago but I can still remember his brilliantly enthusiastic smile when he used to hand me back my work.
Mary - I wonder if it's just a 'girl thing' - the desire to make it look nice?
Charmaine - maybe we should join Stationer's Anonymous!
Rosalind - I am proud to follow you out of the closet as a sniffer of ....well, most things really. Any kind of paper HAS to be the best, doesn't it? Esp. books.
Derek - Milkmen, Butchers, they just don't get the glamorous press they deserve, do they - they NEED creative souls like us to hang fairy lights off their much-underestimated professions!

Eni said...

I glad that you mention Enid Blyton's "The Children Of Cherry Tree Farm." In my book on Enid Blyton, titled, Ther Famous five: A Personal Anecdotage (www.bbotw.com) I likened Tammylan, to Plato's Cave Man, who is similar in many instances. For instance, he could interact cordially with the world out of his cave i.e. with animals andhumans (children in particular) which in itself perse was an educational process in the Platoian sense. In addition, it broke down stereotypes of cavemen being ruthless and uncaring savages.