It may be no surprise to some, that at school I was considered a bit of a weirdo. This was partly because I was good at the ‘wrong’ things.
If I’d been good at sport, I might have been OK.
I tried, I really did. But my first memory of doing anything competitive was the school sports day when I was five and the littlest child in the school. (So little that the smallest school uniform skirt came half way down my shins making me look like an Edwardian.) As I scurried along in last place in the egg and spoon race, I overheard a couple of old people (probably in their forties or possibly even thirties) laughing at my earnestness and tiny legs. I carried on trying in the next school where I became briefly proficient (to my own surprise as anyone else’s) at high jump and long jump. But then I moved schools again (to Wales, where I wasn’t the shortest, or at least, I was on a par with many), and became the target of a bully.
She applied one of the classic bullying techniques to isolate me: no matter how good I was, she made sure I was picked last for a team. Even if I was actually helping beat the other team, I was still shouted at for being not good enough. I sort of lost interest then. Rounders matches were going to be hell no matter what I did, so I’d wait until our team was fielding and I could slope off as far away from the action as possible, lie down in the grass and daydream. (When someone at work once suggested a massive interteam rounders match in St James’s Park a few years ago, my whole being reverted to a miserable nine year old. I have never been so glad to see rain in summertime as I was that week so I didn’t have to make an excuse not to take part.)
I was all right at cycling and quite fearless (my husband refuses to believe this now), I did a lot of hiking, I even went climbing once, up an actual rock face in Three Cliffs Bay. But none of these counted. Those things were weird too. The things I liked doing were almost entirely uncool.
I could draw, just about, and that was grudgingly approved of, but that was it. Otherwise, I was unnatural in that I was all right at Maths and positively liked things like History, learning languages and, of course English.
The thing I loved most was creative writing. I think I was doing this at its heyday in British education. No one cared about dangling adjectives and co-ordinating subjunctives and for all I know, auto-exploding participles etc which must take all the fun out of the process nowadays. In my day (when I shared a desk with a dinosaur obviously), when the exercise was Creative Writing, even spelling and punctuation took a back seat while we were encouraged to express our imagination on paper. I do realise that for some children, this would have been as daunting to them as rounders was to me, but this was my turn to shine (even if I veered towards hyperbole) and I lapped it up. It’s just a shame that hardly anyone appreciated it.
I had one good friend at primary school who was from my village, and on the same wavelength creatively as me. The character of Ffion in ‘The Cluttering Discombobulator‘, ‘Kindling‘ and ‘The Advent Calendar‘ is based on her. Neither of us knew a thing about pop groups or fashion. Instead, whenever we could, we acted out stories or plays we improvised as we went along. This was often re-enacting Planet of the Apes, or Star Trek (with a greater emphasis on girls actually doing something) but sometimes it was completely made up.
We lost touch with each other for over twenty years. But one of the first things she asked in an email after we reconnected was ‘Do you remember the jelly wall?’ This was one of the science fiction ‘plays’ we improvised in the school playing fields in which our characters were desperately trying to get through a sort of force-field and kept rebounding. Of course, all this was in our heads, so what we looked like to everyone else is anyone’s guess – well OK I can imagine it quite well. We realise now, why we were both considered a right pair of weirdos and were bullied accordingly, even if that doesn’t make it all right. But at least we can’t be accused of following the herd.
When I was about fifteen, my father, who was always a keen writer, joined Swansea and District Writers’ Group and asked me to go to. I daresay, that much like when I joined the SF group with him, I vaguely hoped there might be an interesting, intelligent and attractive boy of my age there, and perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear that I was disappointed. The next youngest person was probably ten years older than I was and female and even shyer than I was.
There was an established novelist, several poets (one very angry and sweary), a man who wrote steamy fiction for women’s magazines under a female pseudonym (excerpts of this sort of thing is NOT what you want to hear being read aloud when you’re sitting next to your father) and lots of short-story writers. I decided within a few weeks, that a few of them were even weirder than me and Dad, and even I knew that that really took some doing. (NB – if you were then or are now in Swansea and District Writers’ Group – I apologise, this was just my perception at the time as an out-of-the-loop adolescent and with no right to judge anything!)
Perhaps this explains why I didn’t join anything similar at university. (But it didn’t stop me from writing a good deal of angst-ridden poetry and sitting up late with fellow students talking pretentious nonsense about literature, because young adult students of a certain type can do that sort of thing naturally.)
After graduating, I started working, then married, then had children. I didn’t try to find a writers’ group, partly because of lack of time, and partly because other people had put me off using my wild imagination in what was meant to be kindness, but wasn’t.
Then, we moved to Dorset, and I reconnected with ‘Ffion’ who encouraged me to enter a local writing competition and from that, I joined the local writers’ group. By this time I was in my forties and had stopped caring what anyone thought. The other writers’ turned out to be lovely – all quite unique, full of imagination, with differing ideas of why and for whom they write. Some, like me, want to publish books, some just want to read things for others to enjoy. Are we weird? Absolutely not! Would someone of fifteen think we are? Meh.
Rather late in life, but not too late, my love of creative writing led me to my tribe – wonderful, valuable, treasured writers and readers, including you who are reading this now. Encouraging, supportive, kind.
I have made so many friends, including really close ones who have become co-authors. Is it weird for me and one of them to be recording ourselves barking so we could spell the sound of a woof? Or for me and the other one to compare the relative merits of unicorns and dragons over a curry? (You know who you are, you two.) Maybe it sounds a bit weird, but we look on it as research, honest.
And if not, then while I can’t speak for the others, personally, after all this time I’m happy to be myself, and if someone thinks that makes me weird, then weirdness is something I happily own nowadays. I never really wanted to be in the loop anyway!