Hi. I haven’t seen you in a while. This is because I have been busy. For the past year I have been writing my book, which takes most of my time and especially my thoughts. I don’t know if you know this but writing a book takes even longer than reading one. But it is worth it because sometimes you will look at the book and you will think, This is exactly the type of book I wanted to read and I am the one who wrote it. That feeling is the best one I think I’ve ever had in the whole of my life. It is weird though, because other days you will look at it and you will think, Oh dear. This is not a very good book at all. How embarrassing.
I can’t explain why you will feel both these things but you will and this is okay because after looking into it, it seems everyone who ever wrote a book also felt like that.
Now someone else is looking at my book and so I have a little time while they work out how to help me mend its broken bits.It has given me some time to think of how I got here, to where I have written an actual book, because it has not been a straight path for me.
Take my hand and travel with me. We are going back. The year is 1990 or something. It is definitely around that time. Perhaps even earlier. I can’t remember. It is the scenery that is important. We are in a Roman Catholic primary school, the teachers are nuns, like Whoopi Goldberg. They have organised a writing competition. First prize is something, I don’t know what, because it isn’t important. It is more important that I am told I am a good writer.
I dictate the story to my mother, who types it on our Brother word processor. Here we can take a moment to smile and shake our heads, What were we like! Huh! We thought this was the height of technology and now it looks so dumb. Yes, we have come very far since then (hey, 1990 Amy, we have new five pound notes now and they are so weird) but this isn’t the point of the story, please try not to get distracted. No, the point is a young mind is being let loose creatively and it is as close to magical as we will ever know! Let us not worry that the young girl is infringing on many of the artistic properties of the St. Trinian’s series. This is not important either. No, she is having fun and she thinks this is possibly the most fun thing she’s ever done.
It is days until we are gathered in the assembly hall to find out the results of the competition. Because we are artists we have experienced a lot of self doubt in those days, we have said, Maybe I shouldn’t have entered! What if that bit with the frog isn’t as funny as I thought? But because we are artists we also daydream of winning the prize. Right now I think the prize might have been a colourful play set, simple block-like figures with permanent smiles and clip-on hats, but stop distracting me because the prize wasn’t what mattered most. I wanted to know, Am I good at this?
They call third prize, it isn’t me. Phew, I think. Second prize isn’t me either. I think, Oh good, I have come first. First prize is called…it is not me. We are clapping but we are confused, This isn’t a nice story at all! This is not cheering me up. This is very sad. What if this little person never writes again?
The nun – not Whoopi Goldberg – now she is saying something else. Something about a story that was so good it deserves a special mention. It is my name. I am given a colouring book. The nun explains, If this had been a competition for writing stories this would have done very well, but this was a handwriting competition.
I was ahead of my time. I would never use a Brother word processing computer ever again! (No, 1990 Amy, you won’t, because soon every home will have a Windows computer and something called The Internet, I will explain when we meet again.)
This incident was a confusing blow to my confidence as a young writer. It would be a long time until I felt able to enter another competition. And next time, I swore, I would read the terms and conditions very carefully.
The year is 1994, I have changed schools as the Roman Catholic primary school went bust. It is a shame but we are settling nicely in the new school now. I am reading my story to the headmistress, it is a story about a mouse who falls asleep in a space suit and ends up going to space. There is some minor peril but otherwise it is a very positive story and the mouse has a lovely time. They give me a sticker because they think it’s such a wonderful story.
On the way back to the classroom I pass a poster on the wall. POETRY COMPETITION. It is for the Eisteddfod. Whoever wins gets a small wooden chair. Well, I think, I don’t know about the chair but I would like to officially be the best writer in this school. (Note: this is an artistic choice. I did not actually see a poster at this time. I think entrance in the competition was compulsory. But it is better if I tell you it happened like this because it is a better story.)
So I set to work. Traditionally I was a writer of prose, so this was outside my comfort zone. I tried many times, I screwed up the pieces of paper and threw them over my shoulder. My pencil was blunt from effort.
Finally, I knew it was done. I drew a massive leek on the empty side of the page, as it looked a little sparse, and I entered it in the competition.
The school was abuzz. There would be a special guest presenting the prize. A young and new politician by the name of Tony Blair. We do not know who he is, so don’t start going, Yeah yeah, he is a war criminal because no one knows this, in fact we don’t understand politics at all right now because we are about 9 or something.
All we know is that on that day lots of parents gather at the school gates and they clap and shake his hand as he comes in. It is like he’s a pop star but not that good looking. It doesn’t matter. Our motivation is not the politician, nor the tiny chair, but the recognition we crave for our efforts, even if it is poetry and we don’t really see what the fuss is about there.
Anyway. It is Tony Blair holding a tiny chair and we are unable to sit still. Come on Tony Blair, get on with it! Say who won! But he is smiling and he has loads of teeth and he won’t stop talking.
Eventually he says that he is going to say who has won. We are nervous because we hate standing in front of lots of people. We are shaking. We feel sick. It will be hard to collect the prize and the tiny chair will shake in our hands but we- what? Who?
Not her. Anybody but her.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK…
…Unless the reaction to this blog post is very positive, in which case I will Beyoncé it and drop it unannounced in the meantime.