Part 1: the very early years
I’ve always been a writer …
Even before I started school I was a writer in my head. I would spin a mental commentary for example on what was happening to me and how I felt about it, and imagine myself playing a part in the rich literature of childhood as Heidi, Wendy or the Artful Dodger – all in my then limited vocabulary. I loved words and their meanings and how they were cleverly made from the letters of the alphabet. I had learned to recite the letters in the sing-song phonetic fashion – ay, bee, see, dee .. But more than anything I longed to be able to write them, write words. I tried to copy simple words – CAT, DOG, BALL – but failed every time. I couldn’t hold the pencil or crayon in my hand properly. The marks I made were random slashes and meaningless squiggles. Why couldn’t I do it?! Don’t worry, I was reassured, like everyone else you will learn to write at school. It was a tantalising promise. No- an expectation. I became desperate to start school. Fortunately, the day was on the near horizon.
Starting school was not just a huge transition for me but, as her first child, also for my mum. So, she took my sister and me to Cleethorpes for a holiday just before the big day. That seaside holiday was the best week of my five-year-old life: paddling in the sea, a show at the end of the pier, a penny in the slot to hear The Laughing Policeman, sand everywhere and losing our way back to the B&B. As soon as I started school I would be able to write about it all, I thought.
However, on that first day in the classroom, my high hopes were dashed. The teacher clearly didn’t have ‘teach Christine writing’ on her timetable for the day. Frustrated, I picked up a small blackboard slate and a stub of chalk but could only cry with disappointment at my feeble scribbles. Afterwards, when mum asked how I’d got on, my verdict was scathing. “Huh! School isn’t all its cracked up to be,” I said. ” I didn’t learn anything. Not even how to write!”
Luckily, things improved.