Monday 23 January 2012
Why I Write - Part 1 of 3
It seems like a straightforward question, that. Why do I write? Well… it’s not straightforward. Not at all.
The urge to write is not an easy thing to pin down. There are psychological, social and emotional elements to it. It’s a philosophical question. There are raw nerves to be struck in such thoughts. Memories better left repressed. Cans that contain less worms. Heartstrings one should never tug.
But the question has been asked and it is my duty to provide some attempt at an answer. Here goes.
The first time I told somebody that I wanted to be a writer, I was about seven or eight years old (memory is a sketchy thing). I’d been collecting the works of Roald Dahl and savouring every word the man wrote. He was the king of gross-out comedy then and I’ve yet to discover a writer who can compete. The declaration happened over lunch with my mother and grandmother – a Dahl-esque cast, as it happens. My grandmother was always fond of the question, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” She used it often: icebreaker, tension breaker, ball breaker. On this occasion I suspect it was to get me talking. I was a quiet child, more than happy to let my loquacious younger sister do the talking and entertaining. Me, I was happy to sit and listen. Listening… I have to come back to that. It’s very relevant to this topic.
Anyway, my answer at the time was set to disappoint her. Again. You see, my grandmother wanted a specific response from me when she asked this question. She wanted me to tell her that my vocational ambition was to join the priesthood. Become a man of the cloth. There had not been a priest in her family for a number of generations and I was a bespectacled little fellow which usually inferred a certain level of intelligence not usually bestowed on those with perfect eyesight. Surely I’d be clever enough to study the bible or whatever texts are required to earn that white collar. But time and again I managed to disappoint. Previous answers included lorry driver, boxer and cowboy; and a couple of times, when the whimsy was in me, taller.
Here’s the interesting thing, though. When I said, “I want to be a writer and I’ll probably illustrate my own books,” both my grandmother and mother looked a little surprised. Pleasantly so, I thought.
“Do you hear that?” Mum said (she was always concerned about Granny’s hearing ability). “He’s going to ‘illustrate’. How does he even know a word like that?”
Granny mouth-shrugged and pushed her false teeth past her lower lip with her tongue.
Mum waited until she slurped the dentures back into place and said, “It’s all that reading he does.”
There and then, I felt the tinniest surge of something. Excitement? Power? Whatever it was, I liked it. The ability to spit out a word like ‘illustrate’ at such a young age taught me something. Words could impress people. I later went on to learn that words could flatter, hurt and strike fear. If used well sometimes you could achieve all three of these effects at once with a single sentence. But then you also had to learn how to take a punch. I’ve earned myself a fat lip or bloody nose, thanks to my smart mouth, more times than I care to count. That’s okay, though. We learn from such things. I now know that I’m not made of glass.
To be continued...