A story: how I started writing

I have been asked to write something about my love of writing, where it started and so on. It is an interesting question, especially when I look back. I am not well read nor am I learned. I did not have this interest throughout school – or at least I don’t think I did – although I have always been my own story teller.

It being a means of self-expression, perhaps, was the one main factor that drove me to write. I do not have an eloquent tongue; in fact I frequently find I have a disconnect between my brain and what passes through my lips. Throughout my childhood I was extremely quiet and I believe this continues to have an impact on me today, although I am much better than once I was.

My opening to writing only came around the age of sixteen when I left school. I had spent the previous decade in a private school in which I did not perform well. I was constantly at the bottom of the class, receiving poor grades, predominantly I should say because I was lazy. It was only in my final year that my conscience began to stir and I began to want to learn. It was too late for the school however, for I had already decided to leave. I had low esteem to a degree you would not believe and my departure was something of a protest.

When I moved on to Sixth Form College I felt it was the first time in my entire life that teachers had treated me as half intelligent. No doubt the academic standard here was not as high, no doubt I had once stood beside the cream of the crop and now I was more amongst my equals, but the change of environment really was an aid. My low esteem continued to hold me back, but it was the start of something. I made a poor choice of A-Levels, choosing those subjects I thought I would enjoy, not those that would dictate my future career: indeed I had no career direction. I feel indebted to one of my teachers at that time however.

I had chosen to study English Language; I suppose this was the poor man’s alternative to English Literature. Poor in will that is. This course was all about writing, rather than a study of the work of the masters. I was not skilled at the time: my grammar was poor and my vocabulary was constricted. One of my tutors, however, looked beyond this and did everything she could to encourage me. Though my writing was poor she fostered my interest. Though it was immature and no doubt at a standard I should have reached years before, she continued to expend nice words on me. Her name was Eleanor Marsden and she is often in my thoughts.

My first forays into authorship were some whacky tongue-in-cheek adventures in time travel. There were the tales of Professor Ivan and Dan the Time Travelling Man. There was the instruction manual for a time machine. I have one of those stupid English senses of humour; the very subtle dry irony. Those stories were mockery of literature in a way, the natural response of one who was not well read.

In my final year of College I did not apply to attend university as my friends did. My mood was still low and I did not believe I would pass my exams. When I did it was something of a surprise. I decided to apply for the following year and spend this year doing something else. What, I wasn’t sure. Somehow I convinced my parents that I was going to be a writer and amazingly they tolerated me. While my brothers had each been given a Hi-Fi when they passed their O’Levels, I had received a 486 personal computer. Towards the end of my days at school I had developed an interest in graphic design, utilising my eldest brother’s Amstrad green screen word processor. I decided I wanted to pursue this and so my ever generous father had a computer built for me. The machine was invaluable. During those summer months after college I began to write a script for a short film, sitting at the keyboard in my bedroom, tapping out the words.

As September approached however, it was time to look for work. The son of the publisher of the Parish Magazine was visiting our Church and he happened to mention in passing that he was looking for students to do some product acceptance testing on an IT project he was managing down in Cambridge. It was an opportunity for me, so I packed my bags and travelled down south to take up the work. I was the only student who lasted more than a day; my colleagues were soon replaced by some mature fellows, redundant, unemployable and taking whatever work they could. During that time I met a project manager called Robert Yelbeck who had an interest in writing in his spare time. He cast his eyes over my manuscript and gave me perhaps the most useful advice I have ever received. ‘Don’t give up the day job,’ he told me.

It was quite a blow. He was saying my writing was poor, he was saying it was immature and foolish. It was a knock-back, but funnily it was inspiring. It made me want to write. It made me want to be good. It made me want to stick at it, to really work at it, to do whatever I could to be more than a failure once again. When my contract finished I returned to Hull and my parent’s home, and there I began to process of writing my first novel, taking that pathetic manuscript as its foundation. You will know what I think about this if you read the earlier post.

What follows may sound strange, but essay writing was probably the one thing that improved my writing no end. I finally got a place at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, to study Geography and Development Studies. I enjoyed writing essays; yes, it was a hard work at the time, but I enjoyed doing research and then arguing the point. Essay writing is quite intensive training: you often have to make wide-ranging points, reviewing great bodies of research in the process, and yet you must do so within the confines of a ridiculously small word limit. But writing essays on obscure subjects such as the contribution of industrialisation to water pollution in the River Ganges or environmental degradation in sub-Saharan Africa was great training. What is more, it made me read. I had to read, and in doing so I not only read the arguments, but also observed how the authors wrote.

Since then I have just been writing: writing, writing, writing. Often it is just a release for me, but sometimes it serves a purpose. I always have at least two projects in mind, although I never seem to finish any of them. Whatever I write, however, it always gets sucked into that other passion of mine: creating beautiful pages. I do not have what one would call a career; I am not a skilled worker. So the little I do have I am determined to cling onto with all my might. That simple desire: to create beautiful books.

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