The poet Philip Larkin memorably asked : “Why should I let the toad work Squat on my life?”
That toad –WRITING – has squatted on my life more or less since I was born. The golden thread of consistent attachment to writing, or writing’s consistent attachment to ME, has run through the whole of my life. I have always been true to it, in my fashion, during the promiscuous twists and turns of my vocational quest.
At school, whilst other kids seemed to dread their composition ink exercises, I looked forward to mine. It was an opportunity to channel into focused black and white the swirling imaginative colours which whirled round my young brain, fed by my six library books a week habit. I read anything and everything.
This voracity had its downside. Victorian novelist H Rider Haggard’s myth-steeped descriptions of his characters’ adventures in Africa last century fascinated me. But da Silva, the Dutch explorer whose frozen body was found centuries after his death in a cave high up Mt. Kilimanjaro, transferred himself from “King Solomon’s Mines” to the wardrobe in my bedroom, on and off, for a couple of years. Getting to sleep was no mean feat with an imagination like mine!
My ‘real’ life – eating, sleeping, going to school – was incidental to my inner life which was full of the really interesting questions:
“Why are we alive, where do we go after death, do we live on several planes of existence at once, what is happening in other galaxies, if there are x million Catholics and even more Buddhists and Hindus, how come they are all Wrong and Damned and a few thousand members of the Free Church of Scotland are Right and Saved?
What would happen if you unwrapped an Egyptian mummy? I wonder if I could make a shrunken head like the Jivaro people? Why did people paint pictures on cave walls thousands of years ago? “
These issues, fed by reading, preoccupied me for years. I must have written about them, and my essays were often commended. However, attempts on leaving school to obtain my childhood exercise books were met with a bureaucratic “No” .
During my twenties, spent in further education teaching, I had a ‘Personally Speaking’ column in a well-known provincial Scottish island newspaper, a copy of which I was reliably informed went to the British Embassy in Peking in China every week.
I also wrote for the local paper in a small industrial town in West Lothian, Scotland, where I had my first English lecturing job in the local technical college. ‘How I was left on the shelf – and found true happiness’ was my contribution to the West Lothian Courier’s Spring Brides Feature one year. “Couldn’t you have been a bit more romantic ?” was the Editor’s only comment.
Harrowed in my mid twenties by the realisation that time was speeding on apace without my having yet written an autobiography, I then began the first of what were to be many bouts of journal-keeping…….and so the writing went – on, and on, in a dazzling variety of contexts for the next several decades…..
Any writers out there with amusing writing anecdotes? Do leave them in a comment!
550 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
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