Dear 12 Year-Old Me…

Dear 12 year-old me,

Image by Piyapong Saydaung from Pixabay

I think about you a lot! I see you in my head sometimes. I don’t think you looked that different to how I do now. Same hair, same face. I don’t think my dress sense has even changed that much. I still remember your crippling shyness, how it crept up on you until you couldn’t deny who you were and how the world saw you. That became a heavy burden in your later teens but right now, it’s not a problem at all. I wish I could go back and tell you that one day you find your voice! That one day you run your own company and write and publish your own books!

It was all you wanted back then. Every day you would rush home from awful school, the place that churned up your guts every night in bed, and you’d glue yourself to your notebooks and pens, scribbling away, pen flying over paper, never stopping. You had so much inside of you, I think it surprised you as much as anyone when you wrote an entire book. Until the moment you created Danny and what would eventually become The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series, it had been short, endearing stories about lost animals.

What happened when you turned 12? Everything.

You discovered music. You couldn’t stand the vapid boy bands popular among your classmates in the early 90s, but you found a lyrical friend in Bob Dylan and other musicians from the 60s. You felt so out of place in your own generation, until you discovered grunge and Nirvana! I remember how you’d lie on the floor with your head between the speakers of your hi-fi system, trying to digest and pinpoint every drum beat, every strum of the guitar, amazed and bewildered by what you were hearing and feeling.

You discovered movies. The Lost Boys inspired you to write about monsters, though you made yours the human kind. I still remember that moment, the bit at the end of the movie where they discover that the head vampire is really Sam and Michael’s mother’s boyfriend and you thought what if that happened in real life? What if your mother was dating an absolute monster and no one knew it but you?

You discovered that your parents had already been divorced for a few years – for some bizarre reason, feeling the need to keep up a charade until the truth came out. What you felt more than anything was relief that the arguing would stop and fear about who they might date. After all, monsters really did exist…

You started writing Danny’s story fuelled by your own fears.

You discovered gritty storytelling. Your writing shifted from cutesy animal tales to hard-hitting ones about abuse, drugs, self-harm, and crime and that’s because you fell in love with The Outsiders and SE Hinton became on of your heroes. She published The Outsiders at aged 17, so that meant you could too, right? Reading her books and others like them, moved you away from animal stories and into darker territory.

You discovered Stephen King and his influence would seep into everything you wrote from then on. The exploration of character and back story and motivation, and the every day details we so often miss. For you, the monsters were always human.

You thought you were fat and so many people thought it their duty to convince you this was true. You began to wish you could shrink inside your own skin, or pull it all off and start again. You looked at your skinny older sisters with envy and longing. You didn’t want to be seen in public with a face like that, a body like that. You turned to your writing, to your characters and they became your entire world, your friends, your everything.

They never went away, let me tell you that now. They are all still here. Every night my mind plays out scenes that have happened or not happened, and every night I watch my own little movies in my head just like you did back then.

I wish I could go back and tell you that everything you hated about yourself then is everything I love about myself now.

You were called over-sensitive, grizzly, weak, easy to make cry. You lived on the edges looking in, observing. I can’t tell you how much that shaped you as a writer and how I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. How now I can see who you were and what you were becoming, that pain is good, that silence makes you stronger, that observation builds entire worlds inside you. That you overcome everything and did it anyway. At 12 years old all you wanted was to be a writer and today that is all I am. That is everything. I smile every day because you gave me these stories, these worlds, these words.

Thank you for doing it. Thank you for dedicating so many hours in your bedroom to writing and creating characters. None of it was wasted. None of it was in vain. It was all worth it in the end.

Thank you for being you.

With love,

44 Year-Old me.

Still Lost In My Own Little World

Me, aged twelve – thinking about my story at school, staring out of the window, barely listening to the teacher, barely aware of the world around me, filling my rough book with ideas and pieces of dialogue because my characters think the school day is a perfectly appropriate time to start talking to me. Rushing home, backpack bouncing against my shoulders, breathlessly running through the door to complete my chores before the rest of the day is mine. Me, in my room, music on first. Guns ‘N’ Roses at that age, thumping out from my hi-fi music system on the floor. My desk, an old coffee table, me on my knees, hunched over reams of scruffy A4 lined notepaper. A whole folder of one boy’s story, one boy’s scary world which would over time morph into an entire universe of my making.

Me, feeling excited to the point of explosion. Fixating entirely and completely on the story growing before my eyes under the frantic movement of my powerful biro. Pouring out the ideas and scenes that have bombarded me all day at school. Not a part of me is wondering what else I might have missed, from teachers, friends or society itself. Because I am removed and detached from all of that. That’s the background, the white noise, the distraction and this – this is real.

There were always other stories too, a constant stream of words and action. Sometimes I would sit at the breakfast bar in the kitchen with an old transistor radio to keep me company. I’d be lost in there, utterly gone. A ghost in this world but the puppet master of my own. I’d come back when I had to, with drowsy reluctance. What was there for me in this world? Terrible school, awful people, tedious chores and pointless homework. My parents rowing, doors slamming, people leaving, accusations flying, money draining away. I didn’t want any of that. I did not, in the words of Tom Waits, wanna grow up.

So, I didn’t. I broke free. I bucked the trend. Broke the rules. Did what all of them told me not to. I became a writer. And not much has changed. I have a foot in each world but most of my thoughts and dreams happen in my own one. As a child people used to say I was in my own little world and I guess they thought that one day I would grow out of it. Nah. I became a writer.

And it’s just the same now, as I hurtle back from the dreaded school run, a day off stretching ahead of me, dogs to walk, ideas to hold onto. I get to the laptop, get to my stories, to my own little world as fast I can. The world is bigger now – it’s a universe! I have sixteen published titles and eleven of those occur in the same universe. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was my obsession as a child and a teenager. That story, those characters guided me through my youth and gave me a much needed escape route from reality. No wonder they mean so much to me. No wonder I am reluctant to let go. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, the Holds End trilogy, The Mess of Me, Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature and Bird People and Other Stories have all grown out of my obsessive writing as a twelve year old. I’d love to go back and tell her! And at the moment, the same universe continues to expand with three more books I am working on side by side. Again, I think twelve year old me would be amazed!

At the moment I am working on the fourth draft of At Night We Played In The Road which is a spin-off book from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series. Two characters are introduced in book five of the series and I loved them so much I decided to give them their own book. A while back I penned a start to a sequel to The Mess Of Me, which was my debut novel in 2013. I finally finished it recently and as both these new books happen in The Boy With The Thorn In His Side universe, writing them inevitably led me to one final story. A crossover story, which I am currently on the second draft of. This book, The Dark Finds You, brings Danny from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series, Leon from The Mess Of Me, Bill from the Holds End trilogy and Elliot from Elliot Pies Guide To Human Nature together in one story about a missing boy. It happened naturally and inevitably, I feel, because storylines that run through all those books have tangled my characters up together in the same dark criminal world where youngsters are lured into running drugs for older, criminal gangs and all of this comes to a head in the crossover book. It really finishes off Danny’s story too – from the boy I created aged twelve, to the man he is now – this last story ties everything up with no loose ends left hanging. Once these next three books are released, it really will be the end for that universe.

I will be both happy and sad but other worlds are calling! Plus, I don’t want to drag it out forever! This last book really will tie everything up perfectly and it’s been a very satisfying one to write. I think it is the fastest and easiest book I’ve ever written. It took just six weeks to complete the first draft and it just sort of wrote itself!

So, I’d like to pay homage to my obsessive twelve year old self. Thank goodness you didn’t give up. That goodness that drive to write was there every single day, upon opening your eyes! You didn’t know then what it would lead to but you did know you were addicted!

And I’m extremely happy and grateful to still be lost inside that world of my own making. It’s the best place to be.

Things I Think I’ve Seen

Not too long ago I wrote a post about the syndrome known as maladaptive daydreaming. Here is the post for anyone wondering what the term means or how it may or may not apply to me. https://chantelleatkins.com/?s=maladaptive+daydreamingThis week I read another post from my author friend Kate Rigby on the same subject (here is Kate’s blog post : https://authisticwords.blogspot.com/2023/01/maladaptive-daydreaming-in-adhd.html?fbclid=IwAR12MHls3umdJm2qokKK18fwwDhXID-iTxJGEUMACvoaLJWj21WGNArdND8 )and it got me thinking again about daydreaming, imagination, writing and real life and how these things weave together for writers in particular. I started thinking about the host of ‘memories’ I have in my head that may be true, distorted versions of truth or outright daydreams I made up. Some of the ‘memories’ I’m about to describe I have never told anyone about before. I’m not sure why but perhaps it was simply not knowing myself sometimes where truth and reality end and fiction and imagination take off! That aside, I think some of these might make good writing prompts, so here we go:

Image by Aline Berry from Pixabay

The lady in the road.

I’ve never told anyone about this but when I was a child I was sat in the back of our car and we were on a journey but I have no idea where we were going or how old I was. For that reason, I stipulate that I must have been younger than eight, because I have fairly decent memories of life after the age of eight. This is what I remember, or think I remember. We were in a traffic jam. It was not an area I recognise now. I think we were on a day out maybe. It was hot, so probably summer. I don’t recall who was driving, whether it was my mum, dad or even whether both of them were there. I don’t remember if any of my sibling were in the car. I looked out of the back window and saw a woman come running out of a path or an alley. In my head, she had long brown hair that was sort of wild and messy; she was wearing a nightdress or skimpy dress of some sort and she had bare feet. She was screaming. I thought my parents would notice or react but they didn’t. She ran towards the line of traffic and a man got out of his car and ran after her, back towards the path or alley. He left his car door open and his car in the traffic. The traffic then lurched forward and we drove away. I kept looking back wondering what was wrong with the woman and what happened next but for some reason I didn’t say anything to anyone in the car then, or after. I still think about it now but I have no way of knowing where or when this happened.

The boy on the ground.

This one is slightly clearer so perhaps I was a bit older. It was another summer, another day out and another car journey. I have a feeling we had been to the beach or were near a beach. I remember grassy edges to the sides of the road and a group of people milling around on a corner next to a fence. Perhaps they were waiting for a bus or to get picked up by someone in a car. What stood out to me though was the large angry, red-faced woman who had her foot on the head of a boy who was lying on the ground. I remember blinking to clear my vision. Was I seeing this right? What was going on? I remember wondering if he had been really naughty or had just fallen over. Again, it was such a strange and unsettling thing to see, I didn’t say anything to anyone else in the car, but I’ve thought about it again and again over the years, wondering if what I saw was as horrible as it looked.

The creatures in the undergrowth.

Okay, this is a recent one so the memory is clear but I am still not sure what I saw. Just before Christmas I was walking my dogs down the lane and over the little bridge that crosses the Moors river. As we came over the other side of the slope, the dogs all stopped and stared as there was a tremendous scuffling racket in the woods beyond the fence. At first I assumed it was pheasants running around as when they fight or panic they make a lot of noise in the undergrowth. The noise got closer and closer. The dogs were nervous and confused. Something was coming, but what? The trees on that side of the fence are dense and tall so we couldn’t see what was coming, but suddenly two or three creatures shot out under the fence, skidded in a panic and circled right back into the woods again. It all happened so fast that I did not get a clear look at them. They were definitely short, not the height of deer. They were reddish brown in colour. I didn’t see any tails, or certainly not the long bushy tail of a fox, for instance. They were so fast and so close together that I didn’t see heads or faces. My first thought was pigs of some sort but that doesn’t make much sense for the location. It’s quite near a busy main road so I don’t think wild pigs would be released here and there aren’t any farm pigs in this area. Perhaps they were dumped but I kept an eye on the local news, thinking if they were dumped pigs, someone else would see or hear them and report it. Nope. Nothing. They could have been a smaller breed of deer but I’ve never seen anything but red deer and roe deer in this area. I am still confused and the dogs were very spooked!

The scarecrow in the field

Not long after we moved here I was walking down the lane on a cold, frosty morning. There was low lying mist rolling across the fields and something caught my eye. I stood and stared and thought I could make out a scarecrow in the distance, close to some woods. It seemed weird because I’d never seen one there before, but it had that look to it. Arms out, rigid, stick-like body and what seemed to be grey rags fluttering on the breeze. I shrugged it off and kept walking. Only, the next time I looked back, it had gone…

The naked man on the common

This was a few years ago and I still question my vision that day! It was a hot day and I was watching my dogs run on the common, our favourite place. I saw a figure trundling slowly down a hill on the other side and it was not until I drew nearer that I realised it seemed to be a naked man. He was carrying a stick, he had a long beard and he scuttled away as soon as he realised he had been seen. Heading up the same hill moments later, he had completely vanished. I assume he was hiding in the heather somewhere but I’ll never know.

I’m sure I’ve got more but these are some of the somewhat clearer and stranger ones. After each sight, my imagination went into instant overdrive, making up a story and perhaps twisting what I had actually seen into something else. Do you have any foggy memories or sightings that confused you?

Poem: Shadow Girl

She’s a heavy thing, this shadow girl, this shredded one

I know her well, tried to shake her off long time ago

But she was there the whole time, claws in

A vampire, bloodsucking, soul draining parasite

I got to drag you around with me the rest of my life?

No knowing why she came back, only maybe she was hiding

Teasing, biding her time, playing the long game

She’s on my back, on my shoulder, in my mind, behind my eyes

She’s the dark, spite filled voice in my head

She said, hey you thought you’d got rid of me, thought you’d get free

Thought I’d gone forever, but no such luck

I’m here to fuck you up

She says, you fuck, how did you let this happen

You used to be so in control, when I had you, you were mine

I had you in line, and you had a spine

Now you have no edges, didn’t you like them better sharp

Now you have no lines to define you except the ones on your face

She promises me peace and satisfaction

She promises me a different reflection

give her back the driving seat, the controls

If I let her in, then she will do it for me like she did before

and I will be happy, like I was before.