I recently read some of my teenage writings. They were a collection of school essays and stories plus some poems that had (thankfully) never been aired. I had stored them in my loft and erased their existence from memory. My son unearthed them and, unlike his usual practice of binning everything, he handed them over to me, unread.
It took about two months to summon the courage to read them myself. I was scared they would be embarrassing and terrible and confirm something I had always been led to believe when I was a child; I was good at Maths – not English.
The pages were yellow and scrawled with my large backward slanting handwriting. Some were torn. What I read was a revelation. At the age of fourteen, not only could I write but I had a very clear social conscience. I found stories about drug addiction, intellectual snobbery (a subject I am still particularly passionate on) and the treatment of the elderly.
This discovery changed the way I look at my writing now. Since I began writing seriously ten year ago I have been intimidated by author interviews.
Q. ‘When did you start writing?’
A. ‘I can’t remember when I didn’t write. I always created a world of my own.’
You know the sort of thing. This depressed me because I was good at Maths.
The Math mantra caused me to carve a career for myself in finance. No one during my school years encouraged me to write and yet the comments and marks from the teachers were all good. I also had the impression that I was not well read and yet re-examining my school years I remembered the classics I read and enjoyed – George Orwell, Graham Greene, Shakespeare.
This form of labelling was applied early in my life. It is something I have always tried to avoid and yet the Math one is deep rooted. I was recently accused of having a working class chip on my shoulder even though I was brought up in a white collar household. I was astounded at first because I never thought of myself as having any sort of class never mind a chip on my shoulder – but I do have a lovely Fife accent which I am proud of. Maybe I have been so successfully at shaking off labels some people are left guessing.
I am really interested to discover what label will be placed against my debut novel The Incomers.
I learned a lot from those early readings but the most important lesson was that you can be good at maths and still write a reasonable essay.