March 2011 Entered for May issue of Freelance writers News competition – short story themed The Secret Not published
A SILLY CHILDHOOD DREAM
My best friend of 45years didn’t know. My husband of 30 years didn’t know. My now deceased parents? I’m not sure – my memory of my first awareness of my secret desire is patchy, vivid in places but definitely hazy round the edges in most. I do remember the austere Dickensian librarian who led me to the fatal book that was to suppress my innermost fantasy and desire for years, no decades. However, I would like to believe that my father would have known.
It was always with me, for as long as my now battered memory can recall, but it was at age 10 or 11, certainly whilst still at primary school (I don’t suppose they have those now do they?) that it really took form and shape and I felt that I could act upon the desire. It had grown from a child’s perspective of life as an Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventure, to a self-conscious teenager’s desire to escape the world in which she was an outsider, through to an adults love of fiction, fantasy and escapism, (why are films today so REAL?!).
There was nothing special about my childhood; I was the fifth child of a regular hardworking middle class family. My father had worked for the same engineering company since leaving school at 14 and had methodically worked his way up through the ranks to the lofty position of Company Director whilst my mother had basked in the importance of her aspiring husbands’ achievements and lived life as a mother and housewife.
Being the fifth child meant I was born at the time when life was looking good for my parents and the hard work and ambitions were showing results. I grew up in suburbia, Surbiton in Surrey to be precise, the famous setting of the TV sitcom The Good Life and graphically encapsulated by one of my teen years boyfriends as “Suburbiton”.
My secret was, at first, openly acknowledged at those classroom question and answer sessions that now seem unrealistic as I look back.
“What do we want to do when we grow up?”
When I look back I wonder at the mentality that thinks 5 and 6 year olds have any concept of what “grownup” is. What I do remember very clearly is my answer not being given the slightest attention and merely passed over as we moved onto Johnny’s worthy ambition of wanting to be a fireman. Now, that brought about a whole discussion, “what do we know about fireman, why do you want to be a fireman and of course, what a fine ambition to have Johnny”.
Nobody was really interested in my ambition; everyone else’s seemed so much more important and glamorous. All of my girlfriends had a very clear picture of their becoming vets, and this was enacted at break times with play acting scenes of treating each other’s pet toy dogs and teddy bears for any number of imagined wounds. So it was that my ambition became my secret, not deliberately, it just evolved from my perception of a lack of interest from other people.
I was an avid reader, a hobby which was actively encouraged by my father. We had a large collection of books and my father was concerned to find me reading these adult tomes. He sent me to the local library with the necessary authorisation for membership and thereby hoped to introduce me to more appropriate reading material. Our local library was a small converted house, not the grand, auspicious, elegant building as regularly depicted in both films and books. In fact the main children’s room was clearly the lounge area with a magnificent fireplace still intact.
It was here that my strongest memory of my feelings of failure and inability culminated. It was from this setting that the chain of events commenced that caused me to push my innermost need and desire to the back of my consciousness. For it was here that I asked the question of the austere but friendly librarian, it was here that I asked for the help that was to be my downfall.
Yet, looking back I can ask myself the obvious question, why didn’t I go back to the library and ask for further help?
I can only conclude that this early experience is one I can now reflect upon and see mirrored in many other experiences in my past life: I did not handle failure well.
So it was that on that fateful day I left the library with the key to my secret desire and ambition safely tucked under my arm. I left with a spring in my step and an imagination full of becoming world famous and everyone wanting to interview me and of my uninterested teachers and school friends suddenly vividly remembering how little Sally had always said she wanted to write stories. Under my arm I had the fatal tome “A Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Writer”.
At home I prepared my “tools”, a blank A4 yellow writing pad, several highly sharpened pencils, a rubber and a pencil sharpener. There was a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign on my bedroom door as I sat at my improvised desk (a dressing table stripped of all its frivolous every day knick knacks).
I can’t remember the title of the books’ first chapter, but I do remember the earth shattering, dream ending first sentence.
The most important part of any story is the very first sentence.
My heart was beating loudly as I turned from this, my first ever writing lesson, to my yellow writing pad. For this was a “how to” book wasn’t it? So, if the very first sentence gave a clear instruction, what was I to do? Surely I must write this first sentence before continuing to read the book?
The yellow page stared at me blankly, the pencil poised in my hand refused to make contact with the now insidious looking page.
My mind was jumble of incoherent thoughts and images, secret gardens/, lonely girls with a secret life outside of the norm of school etc. great adventures in a weird and wonderful fantasy land, a clock that chimes thirteen times …..
But the first sentence?
I knew the story in my head, I knew what I wanted to capture.
But the first sentence?
I never read another word of the book. The feeling of failure that consumed me is indescribable. How was I ever to confess to wanting to write books, when I could not even follow the first instruction, how could I be another Enid Blyton or C.S. Lewis.
I returned the book unread and when the kindly librarian asked how I had got on, I lied and said the book had been a great help, it had been for a project, nothing more. I cannot say for sure but my memory banks don’t feature the library much after that day.
Of course I continued with life. I grew up, I had boyfriends, I had adventures, I left home and stood on my own 2 feet at a very early age, enjoying the sweltering heat of the summer of 76 by the seaside working in a bingo hall! I tried college, I got engaged to a man that my family loved and approved of, I broke it off, I worked in an office where I discovered a natural talent for sales. Life went on, but I never ever discussed that day with anyone. I tucked it away and labelled it “A Silly Childhood Dream”.
A lifetime later, aged 50ish, happily married and living on the Costa del Sol, I have learned the folly of my early years and learned to shrug off the English reserve of my nature. I have learned to meet strangers with an “hola” and to always greet colleagues and friends alike with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I have lost weight and look, feel and behave younger and happier than at any other point in my life. So it was only recently that I confessed to a work colleague my ambition to write a book.
“Do you think you could it?” Janine asked, blunt and matter of fact as ever.
“Yes” was my instantaneous reply. “I even have the story outline, a teenage girl who finds a secret world that she escapes to and has amazing adventures. I even know how she discovers this world and the secret key to unlocking the door.” I laughed at my own frivolous remarks.
“People like you make me sick!” my good friend replied.
“You have a talent, one that most people can only dream of, and you do nothing with it. Just sit and chat about it as if it were a joke. Sorry Sal, but get off you’re a*** and write that book. I’ll say no more.”
My book is still in progress, but the first sentence has been written, and indeed the first 3 chapters. My book will be dedicated: Thank you Janine.