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.

Come Back To What You Know

I’m feeling nostalgic.

I don’t look back on the past with rose-tinted spectacles. I think every decade in human history has been seeped in tragedy, usually man-made, of some kind. But there is something in me at the moment constantly yearning for simpler times.

I wouldn’t do away with the internet or mobile phones, but only for one reason. I’d never sell a single book without either of them!

But I find myself tiring of it all. I suppose everything becomes tiring after a while. Everything loses its shine. Sometimes though, we go back around again, we go full circle and return to things we once turned our backs on.

For me lately, this has been bringing some unexpected comfort in an increasingly fraught, depressing and uncertain world. I’ll just talk about a couple today; things I have returned to and how they are helping me navigate these seemingly endless difficult times.

Walking

I’ve always liked walking. I feel I have some sort of affinity with it, like it is something I am supposed to do. I like how it is so solitary and gives me time to think. So many stories and ideas came from walking when I was a teenager. I thought nothing of walking an hour or more to get to a friend’s house and I hated buses. I would always rather keep walking. I used to run too, mostly in my late teens and my twenties when I got rather caught up in trying to control my figure. But these days, 44 year old me is a bit kinder to myself (most of the time anyway,) and I worry about falling over or hurting my back or my knees. So I think my running days might be over but my walking days have begun again in earnest. I now walk to save money on petrol and I feel good about this. It’s good for my wallet, my body and the planet. I also sort out all my plot holes and writing struggles when I am walking.

Letter writing

During the lockdowns of the pandemic my eldest sister who lives in a very rural location a few hours away from us, started writing letters and cards to my youngest son. He loved this and wrote back every time and they have kept this up ever since. A few months back I decided to join in, so now me and my sister converse through letters. Of course, we text, phone and Whatsapp each other too! But there is something so calm and patient about writing a letter, posting it and waiting for one to fly back to you. Whenever I receive one, I wait for a special moment to read it. I need peace, quiet, a comfy spot and a cup of tea. I have also started writing letters to two friends. It’s not something you do instantly. It’s something you wait until you have time for. And then you go back over everything that has happened since you last wrote and make sure you also address and respond to all their news. This all takes time and that’s what is so nice about it. Knowing that someone took time over doing something for you, knowing the extra effort that went into it – it really is lovely and I feel like people talk differently in letters too. It’s interesting.

Wearing a watch

I got my first mobile phone when I was 19. I think that must have been the last time I wore a watch. I can remember that last watch too because I had it all through my teens and I really loved it. It was a chunky silver Timex and rather than a strap and a buckle to fasten, it was attached to a stretchy silver bracelet. Weird, I know, but it made taking it on and off easier! Gradually it started falling apart and I really missed it. I think I kept the clock head for a while somewhere. After that, phones took over and recently I realised that whenever I need to check the time, I check my phone. I think we all do. But carrying a phone everywhere is getting annoying. They’re not just phones anymore, are they? They’re mini computers we lug around with us, which means we have the entire world in our pocket weighing us down. It’s annoying, especially in the summer when you are less likely to have good pockets! I also thought about all the post-apocalyptic TV I watch and books I read. In that eventuality, phones become useless but watches return. My husband bought me a lovely watch for my birthday and I’m in love with it. I absolutely adore it. I don’t have to take my phone everywhere anymore and I am prepared for the end of the world. Win, win!

Childlike curiosity

There are so many things I don’t know about. I am 44 years old and I still can’t identify that many birds, trees, or plants for example and I know barely anything about the Universe or space… As adults I think we stop being curious. We stop asking questions. I am sure you have all experienced the incessant questioning from a young child who wants to know why, why, why…. I am trying to get back to that. If I don’t know what something is, I am trying to find out. Mostly nature based things! For example, I have a plant identifying app that has helped me learn the names of a lot more plants and trees lately. And I just got this cool app that records and identifies birdsong for you! It’s really addictive.

Collecting stones

Walk around my house and I can guarantee you will find a pile of stones in every room thanks to my youngest son. Like most young children he still has the habit of picking up natural objects that look or feel nice. Sticks and stones mostly. There are sticks everywhere too, though of course really they are guns of various sorts. But stones… I looked the other day and found a pile on the kitchen window sill mixed in with fossils. Another pile on the table. A few more on the side. Some on the stairs. A few in the lounge on the coffee table. A whole gang of them in his room which seem to have been decorated with various spots which apparently mean different things. This stone obsession reminded me that when I was his age I had a whole shoe box of them under my bed. I wasn’t as good as he is at finding cool ones though! He really does have an eye for it. The other day I emptied his school bag and found a whole pile of smooth brown pebbles at the bottom. They were all almost identical in size and colour. Today he brought home a big stone which had been sheared in half at some point, so we could see inside it. My son is right about stones. They are fascinating – apparently pebbles on a beach can be as old as 4 billion years! It’s not like we often get the chance to hold something so ancient in our hands… They can be beautiful, colourful, smooth, jagged, tiny, large. I recently found one with a sad face but then I lost it again, which was sad. Anyway, thanks to my son, my love of collecting random stones just to hold them for a bit has been well and truly rekindled.

Longhand writing

If you follow my social media writing updates, you will know that I often write in longhand. This is also something I have returned to. As a kid I wrote in notebooks of all sizes and shapes. I wrote on anything I could. I was very excited when I got my first electric typewriter! Years later, and it’s all laptops and Word and Google Docs and so on. I still use these things, but I love starting a story off in a notebook. It means I can carry it about with me, write in it at weird times, like when cooking dinner or waiting in the car. Sometimes I end up writing the whole thing in a notebook, just like Black Hare Valley I blogged about last week. Sometimes I’ll get so far then start typing it up. Short stories and poems nearly always start their lives in notebooks these days. There is something about holding a pen in my hand, scratching words out on paper that returns me to me, that makes me feel more connected to it.

What about you? Are there any ‘old-school’ things you have returned to? Or any you never gave up in the first place? I’d love to know so feel free to leave a comment!