“Whoever heard of a creative genius being understood as a child and well-loved by his classmates? Who likes to imagine an artist who emerged into adulthood content with his lot? And, conversely, how satisfying to hear that almost without exception, the untroubled, popular kids at school have ended up blandly as accountants, solicitors, or ‘in IT’. Hold on, misfits, your day will come.”
(Derren Brown, Confessions of a Conjuror)
A few weeks ago, the leader of a local parenting group sent me a message. Would I like to pop along to their friendly and welcoming little group, and talk about my books?
“That’d be great, thanks,” I replied. “Just so you know, my latest book is called ‘I’d Rather Get A Cat And Save The Planet: Conversations With Childfree Women’, and it’s about women who have decided not to have kids.”
The reply came back with lightning speed. “Ah, well… choosing not to have children isn’t an appropriate topic for a parenting group. Can you talk about how to support a child who wants to be a writer, instead?”
I thought about this suggestion for a moment, during which I realised that I’ve got absolutely no idea how to support a child who wants to be a writer.
I didn’t get any of that support myself, mostly because my Mum left when I was five, and my Dad was occupied with the relentless, day-to-day necessities of life as a single parent to three little girls, without having to worry about wildly aspirational career paths on top.
There was a permanent, ultra-chaotic air of ‘no-one knows what they’re doing, but we’re muddling through anyway… sort of’ in our messy house. My hair was always unbrushed, I wore mis-matched shoes to school, and I had imaginary friends rather than real ones.
And so, dear reader, I politely declined that speaking request.
Now, you could say that I should have gone along to that group anyway, and turned my weird childhood story into one that explains what not to do.
Except that, in a strange kind of way, my ‘unconventional’ childhood was the reason I was drawn to writing in the first place. I used my diary to help me make sense of the secret thoughts and feelings I didn’t tell anyone about, because I understood that everybody had their own problems, and I didn’t want to make a fuss.
That regular diary writing developed into an obsession with making sense of life through words, and it’s an obsession I’m now lucky enough to make money from.
The reason I’m telling this story?
We’ve all got some weirdness lurking in the backgrounds of our lives… even if the foreground appears to be ‘perfect’. What are the events, loves, or random quirks of character that really make you, you?
If you can root out this weirdness, do a bit of work on understanding it, then channel it into your creative process, you’ll infuse everything you create with a unique shot of personal magic.
(You know when you see a painting, or you listen to a piece of music, or you hear a poem, or you read a book, and your soul stirs. You think… that person gets it. It’s like that).
So… if I’d gone along to that parenting group, the advice I’d most likely have given would have been along the lines of how to give the kids a head start on a creative life. As in, encourage them to identify their weirdness early on, or make it a whole lot easier and create some for them (Leave your partner! Take drugs! Bring messed-up stepchildren into the family home!)
But on the whole, it’s probably best for everyone concerned that I decided to leave it.
I'm a friendly and professional writer, reviewer and editor who works with warmth, humour and flexibility.
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