A journey towards being a writer

I was born in a suburb of Manchester, in the northwest of England. When I was three, my family moved to Macclesfield, a town about twenty miles south east of the city. We lived in a large, square house, at the top of the road that leads straight up from the town centre and out towards Buxton. It was less than a mile from our house to the boundary of the Peak District National Park. At the back of our garden, there was a wooden, five-bar gate, and beyond that there were fields with cows and sheep in them, bounded by the uneven grey lines of dry-stone walls. We went to Goyt Valley for Sunday walks, and to screech out loud in agonised delight as we paddled in ice-cold streams.

In our garden, there was an extremely tall beech tree, which you can see at the top of the pages of this blog. As children, we made houses in the rhododendron bushes at its base. We prepared fairy banquets from seeds and blades of grass, serving them on pink or yellow rose-petal dinner plates. We tried to catch rainwater in tiny goblets of silver, purple and gold, twisted from the squares of coloured foil which we collected from tins of sweets and boxes of chocolates.

In this photo of me in my Brownie uniform, you can see the trunk of the beech tree behind me, and the rhododendron bush flowering below it. That’s my lovely brother Paul in the foreground, in the garden at Buxton Road

In the garden at Buxton Road

Now, four decades later, I find myself living at the foot of a beech tree for the second time. It towers up outside the windows of our basement flat here in Bristol. Its smooth, grey-green trunk rises so high as to over-reach the five stories of this gracious, Georgian house. The tree’s muscular limbs twist upwards and outwards from the main trunk, and from them the proud branches swing out across the sky. The canopy is laden with leaves the colour of freshly-poured tea. When the wind shakes and worries them, they murmur and crackle, and I feel a kind of lightness; I have a sense of exhilaration as I gaze up through its branches. It seems to be chiding me gently about forgotten promises, urging me to make sure that I keep them. For you see, I am trying to bring about another circularity in my life, by focussing on my writing at last. I had my first urge to be a writer in that house in Macclesfield, and it was there that my eldest sister Susan taught me to read, even before I went to school.

The copper beech tree, Bristol

We moved to North West London when I was eleven. I remember crying inconsolably as we drove down the hill, away from the house and the beech tree. The excitement of London soon swept me up, and as a teenager I inevitably fell in love with the variety, colour and chaotic clatter of it all. English was still my favourite subject at school, and again at university, where I studied English Literature.

In my twenties, I found other paths opening, into a career in social care, and into a madly rich social life, both of which brought different satisfactions. Never let it be said that I didn’t know how to live in the moment and enjoy myself! I still managed to write a few short stories (which were mainly about women in their twenties), but none of them ever got the attention from me that they needed in order to become finished properly, so harum-scarum and out on the razzle was I in those days. I constantly wrote diary pieces about how wrong it felt not to be writing, but the writer in me seemed to be like a shining damsel-fly stuck in a pool of sticky resin, which was in danger of solidifying into a chunk of amber if too many years should pass.

In my thirties I had my darling daughter, Amie, a time of magic and dearness that nothing else in my life can touch. I don’t regret the lack of time for writing during those particular years, when I was nurturing something, someone, more incredible and important to the world and to me than any book I could write. What is strange is that the few scraps of poetry and prose that I did manage to write at that time were stronger than my earlier work, I think, although still hopelessly in need of careful crafting.

Once I was back at work, and trying to combine it with being a mother, life became hectic again. It took me several more years to come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t move on with my writing if I didn’t somehow create a calmer and more reflective lifestyle. I moved out of the city, first to St Albans, then to Bushey, to create a physical distance between myself and the beckoning fingers of London life. I slightly reduced my hours at work, to give myself space to think and plan; to read and write again.

It started working. I seemed to be gathering some momentum. I began to work through the Creative Writing Coursebook, produced by the University of East Anglia. I went to the Hay Festival on my own for a week, writing each morning, and going to listen to writers talking later in the day. I went to a weekend creative writing course at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. Each of these small efforts amassed into a wave of energy that propelled me to apply to do the MA in Creative Writing which I have now almost completed. It is an on-line course, which very marvellously makes it possible to study from home, whilst doing a day job. It has been, more than anything, a way to tip the balance of my life; to fling myself into making writing the first thing that I do, rather than the last.

Last year I took another possibly foolhardy, recession-driven leap, when voluntary redundancies were offered where I was working. It was a scary and decisive step. That is how it has been; one step at a time, edging slowly back around the circle, to seek the quieter self that I seemed to lose contact with when I was about 21.

This blog is another way for me to continue around that circle. I can’t say I know exactly what is going to happen, but every day I discover something else that helps me improve or progress as a writer. And (almost) every day now, I write something. I am close to finishing a novel, and I am still writing short fiction too.

Soon, I will have to say goodbye to this second beech tree, when we move to Yorkshire this autumn, but this blog will remain under a metaphorical beech tree. It will be a place to contemplate the creative and crafting aspects of writing, and to keep track of my own journey. I have always kept a diary, and this digital diary seems to be a logical extension of that. Through the writing I do under this beech tree, I aim to share what I am learning with anyone who may be interested.

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