When I was around 6-years-old, little me found an unusual box hidden away amongst my parents’ belongings. Initially I had no idea what it was, but the appearance of such an interesting case fueled my curiosity. This curiosity has never left me and whenever I am presented with a box or container, I am filled with a burning passion, much like Brad Pitt in ‘Seven’, to know, ‘What’s in the booooox!’. The more interesting the container, the more fevered my quest for knowledge. I’m a sucker for Kinder Eggs, despite not even liking the chocolate and mostly being disappointed with the toy I receive. Honestly it can be anything, post, birthday gifts (which don’t even have to be for me!), boxes in antique shops, subscription boxes are also dangerous territory for me. If it looks like it might contain the treasure of the Sierra Madre, I’m there. I hone in like an eagle who spotted its prey and will not be dissuaded from my quest to know its contents. This grim determination which was thus birthed by finding out the contents of said case, leads me to why I am here writing to you today, let me explain how.
The box that I had found , which clearly began this container obsession of mine, was a large pale green, plastic case, with a faded white plastic handle and a silver lock. Up to this point I though I knew of everything that was contained in our home but this was ‘new’, I had to know what was inside. I dragged that box out of its cubby hole (it was very heavy for a little person!), set it down and got to work on the lock. I remember the tiny silver pre-moulded key was attached to the handle of the typewriter by a frayed piece of string, just long enough the reach the lock. I took the key, placed it in the lock and turned, it gave a satisfying, tiny click and with fevered excitement I tried to lift the lid. It wouldn’t budge, one of my first experiences of what I like to call, ‘container frustration’, but luckily it only reinforces my determination. Setting my face into a determined grimace, furrowed brow and all, I examined the box and found two silver protrusions sticking out from the sides of the lock. I tried the left, I tried the right, nothing. Then, I tried together. Click, fump. It had opened, a little gap now tantalizing teasing what would be inside. My little fingers reached between the space and lifted the lid all the way over. I was met by pale green keys, with letters of the alphabet on them, but not in the order I knew them to go in, and other strange symbols that I didn’t recognize. There were small metal arms that flew up to a large black tube above the keys when I pressed them and the whole machine looked magical, an array of pale green and beige metal casing, interspersed with dark grey metal machinery. It was the most amazing thing I had yet seen in my few years on this earth. It was mesmerizing, it was amazing, it was beautiful….I had no idea was it was, I had to know its secrets.
It was mesmerizing, it was amazing, it was beautiful….I had no idea was it was, I had to know its secrets.
Much like a dream, my memories at this point become disjointed and hazy but I do remember one of my parents explaining to me what this curious object was. It was a typewriter, instead of writing things by hand you can type them out instead, which was quicker. They placed a piece of paper into the machine between the strip of black ribbon and the black tube and turned the knobs at the side to feed the paper into the machine. It made an extremely satisfying furtttt, furtttt, furtttt, sound with each turn of the knob. I knew this was going to be good. They then explained that if I hit the keys, the metal arms attached to that key would hit the ribbon and stamp the letters onto the piece of paper. My first attempt was a bit of a dud as I didn’t use enough strength to get that arm all the way to the page but then I went for it, ‘Clack!’. There it was, proudly standing out in all black, dressed in its best, amongst the sea of white, ‘f’. Oh boy that felt good, so i tried another letter and another, ‘Clack, Clack, Clack, Clack’. Finally I had tried all the letters but a couple and had got to the end of the page, and suddenly ‘Ding’. A clear highly pitched small bell sounded from the machine, obviously to indicate the joy it was finding in being used again after all this time and to reward me for using it. Each line I completed rewarded me with a satisfyingly happy ‘Ding!’ and I was shown how to press the long silver arm protruding from the left of the typewriter to move onto a new line and feed each line of letters and symbols to the ever-increasingly happy machine.
I was having a great time, the voyage to satisfy my curiosity had taken me on a journey I had never been on and it was lighting a fire in me that would refuse to be put out throughout my life. Looking at the lines of various lines of symbols and letters, as happy as I was, I knew I needed to type something that meant something. I need to have it make sense. So with some help I replaced my piece of paper and had my first experience of writing. I was there sat in front of a blank page, a keyboard in front of me and a story to be told and weaved into existence. Stories, whether good or bad, are birthed when the person first puts pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. The symbols begin to weave your story into a complete tapestry; They communicate the journey of thought becoming reality and share that experience, whether fictional or true, with the reader.
The symbols begin to weave your story into a complete tapestry; They communicate the journey of thought becoming reality and share that experience, whether fictional or true, with the reader.
As I was around six-years-old I sat down at a typewriter and wrote a story about some pirates and a lion. The pirates were dastardly and had found a treasure map that would lead them to a cave filled with treasure, they were all for this, so they set sail and arrived at the island and searched long and hard for the cave. Eventually they found the cave and the treasure but what they weren’t expecting was that it was guarded by a ferocious lion. Being pirates, obviously they tried to steal the bounty but were unfortunately all eaten by the lion, who only left their bones. (I was clearly a bit dark, even then). Now i don’t know whether it was grammatically correct, whether it had any punctuation or even whether it made much sense, but what i do know is that it lit a candle in me that although would sputter throughout my life, would never really extinguish. The joy of weaving stories and the act of writing itself.
As I grew and took part in formal education to a fuller degree, less importance was put on the imagination and more was placed on the technical side of writing; punctuation, grammar, structure. Hand-in hand with this I became an avid reader, thirsty for every kind of story. Stories from Roald Dahl, to abridged Shakespeare stories and classics like Peter Pan, Wind in the Willows even King Solomon’s Mines and Black Beauty. I enjoyed reading and writing; Discovering how to use language to enjoy other people’s writing and create it myself. I still love to read and discover new stories and luckily that has never dissipated, but the writing became something to fear.
One moment sticks in my mind as the point at which writing became something other people did. I was in Year Six at Primary School, about 10-years-old, having been tasked with writing a story. I had just read Black Beauty so thought it would be a great idea to do a memoir with the main character as the horse; the horse would narrate its life, describing its many trials and tribulations. The horse went through all manner of owners and experiences, finally becoming a race horse and unfortunately expiring shortly after having passed the finish line, winning a grand derby. A tragic end for sure, and worthy of a epilogue by the jockey, who had ridden the horse to reflect on it’s life and the sadness of its death. My teacher said that it didn’t make sense; the whole story was narrated by the horse and then the jockey had written the epilogue, that was ridiculous. Now what I should have said at the time was, ‘…but it’s a story about a horse’s life, narrated by the horse, like black beauty. Are you telling me Anna Sewell had it wrong? Sure, horses themselves can’t write books so why should the epilogue written by the jockey make less sense?’ But I was ten, I thought he knew best and it was beyond saving. Maybe the execution of my story was not what I had imagined it to be in my mind, but I took my teacher’s criticism to heart and decided that I was clearly not good enough to write, my ideas were silly and I should just stop.
From then on I ‘grew up’ and stopped having time for writing my own stories. I believed I wasn’t good enough, so I just enjoyed the ones that others wrote. I dabbled in poetry for a while, which petered off, and even began a journalism course to satiate my desire to write. The journalism came to an abrupt end when I was told that instead of presenting the facts as they are, to inform people, I was to write to sensationalize so that more newspapers would be sold. Not comfortable with that, I decided journalism wasn’t for me. So lost in a directionless ocean of writing limbo, my writing hibernated below the surface.
Now, I have mustered up the courage again, with a lot of encouragement from my nearest and dearest, to write and tell stories in my own way. I often think my desire to write is like an elusive wisp or deer that when startled may disappear and not been seen again for years. This time I hope it sticks around. I’m also hoping that you, the reader, will join me on my journey of rediscovering writing; stoking the flames of that fire that was ignited so long ago, when I first wrote about pirates and lions on an old typewriter. As we know, often it is the journey that is the most interesting part to watch unfold not the destination, just ask Bilbo Baggins.
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