I wrote a story about a rainbow appearing over a slag heap in an ugly coal and woollen mills town, the one my father moved us all to after I graduated from high school at the age of 16. Mother long ago insisted she didn’t have that essay any more, which saddened me. But it’s too late to worry about it now.
When you start writing as a young child, it’s hard to know what triggered it, this inner drive to be a writer. It just was. You came to Earth with it. You suffered through endless school essays that were written “to order” as homework. Yet you were never invited to write for the high school paper because you were the weirdo who didn’t fit in, even there. The one piece you wrote voluntarily for them was rejected with a sneer and you slunk away so no-one would see how badly hurt you were.
To this day, I don’t remember anything I wrote in school itself and I think my mother tossed out everything. How many decades of school junk can a loving parent hang on to? Especially when she had been deep in the throes of dementia for five years and gripped by its beginnings for the previous 10? But the oral tales I told to the neighbor child, to my younger sister, and to my teenage friends are vivid. I even wrote out pretend scripts for the Wagon Train TV series and for movies.
That hated industrial town was the trigger for my real writing because it was the catalyst for my leaving the UK to come work in the USA as a nanny. And when I got here, I did a lot of writing. I wrote letters home all the time and tried to keep up with some of the 23 pen friends I’d had in high school. That correspondence load had kept the juices burbling over the rocky shoals of nightly homework.
I didn’t attend college seriously until I was 36. In those days I was called a non-traditional student. But by then I’d written and published a lot of short stories and essays. That experience was good background for the few English writing classes I was able to enroll in. Most English classes involved dissecting literature which I disliked doing. It was so much more fun to read and enjoy a book (even to throw one away because I hated it) than it was to shred it!
While my English writing professors were very encouraging and praised my work, it was my journalism classes that saved my sanity! The life of a reporter is not glamorous and pays miserably, so I pat myself on the back for only working as one during university years. Yet the world does need more flies on the wall to witness and record what’s going on.
My coal town experience led to the writer I am today, so it was one of the unexpected curve balls in life that brought success.