Learning To Write: How It Starts

I would like to write that I was born to be a writer. I don’t think that is true. Part of me believes that writers are born but then I have a sceptical side that yells, no, no, that is not it at all. And I sink into Prufrock.

I have been asked frequently how I started to write. I am asked this at readings, at launches, in the classroom, in colleges, schools and universities and at how to get published events. It is a staple question, along with what influences you? I think the two are entwined, forever in some mortal fight to the death. They are dangerous questions, think too much about what started you writing and it may stop. Maybe other writers want me to stop. Maybe wannabe writers think it is a magic key that will open a door for them. Maybe that is superstitious but that is part of me too. I am a conflict of different viewpoints. I have views, I don’t have them, I change them. That is human nature. We are conflicted creatures. We are rational but will cross the street to avoid walking under a ladder. We all have a little OCD in us.

Festival season is on us, and for the first time this year I am taking time out. No panels, no promotion, just writing and staying at home. Time to recharge. No chance of wannabe writers and poets thinking that if they share similarities with me that it makes them a writer like me. You don’t want be me. Be you. It’s more fun. We all seek to fit into some sort of pattern or norm. We yearn to feel accepted.

For example, I come from a small industrial town nestled in the countryside. Once completely cut off from the big metropolis and borough council ideals – that has sadly changed and thankfully I am not there to see it die anymore. Many of you will now be yelling, I come from a small industrial town that is now a suburb for a bigger town. Join the queue, there are many of them. Identities are lost, new ones replace them.

How I started to write was in fits and spurts. As a child my Mother was told I would amount to nothing because I didn’t know the colours of the rainbow, I was three. Critics started with me at a young age. I was told later on by another teacher that I would either become a politician or end up in prison. Let’s just say that education and me, for a long time did not get on. Now, many more of you are yelling, that’s me! Join the queue again, we have the highest level of truancy in Europe and I am not surprised. I bunked off from school and was bored by the whole experience at the age of 13. I had what was called an organic mind, or what teachers referred to as a fantasist or dreamer. Andrew dillies in class, he does not apply himself, he must try harder. Yes, cry out, I was like that too! These are staple school report replies from teachers who do not remember you.

It changed for me with one exam, one question at the age of seven, I remember it now:

Write a two page story about travelling to another world.

Two pages! Two pages scares an adult. Two pages to a child is a playground. I went to Mars on the page, sailed away through stars. I went beyond two pages, beyond rockets, beyond fantasy and the teacher didn’t stop me. I think she pitied me, I was quiet in class, fat and had a speech problem. It didn’t help when reading exams were done stood on your chair in front of 40+ kids as you raked through another exciting Janet and John. Education makes me laugh and cry, those books just make me cry. Education, like any big organisation beast, treats the symptoms but never the child. They sent me to speech classes; my reading age went from 4 years to 18 years +. I was 10. I read.

I lived in an industrial town. I read. I lived in Thatcher’s Britain. I read. The industrial town crumbled away, over half the town became unemployed. I read. We had a leisure centre and more pubs than most towns. I could have become a drunk. I became a writer, same thing, different bar.

Now, maybe I’m making some of this up, maybe I’m remembering it how a 10 year old saw it. Don’t forget, kids see alot and a minority remember. This makes me a writer. I remember things that most people forget, and when I retell them the story their faces light up and they yell, as you are now, Yes, I remember that, I did that!

For me it started with contrasts and conflict, I lived in an industrial town, land locked by the rolling countryside, it was dying. In a run down school, in a run down classroom, someone set me an exam, they did it because they had too many kids in their classroom, they did for a bit of peace. They wound me up and let me go. All because my Mum taught me to read and enjoy reading. It started with a book, it will probably end with one.

Next time, how it continues.

– Andrew Oldham 25th March 2010

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