I always find it really hard to describe myself, especially in those kind of work situations, when you are asked to ‘tell a little bit about who you are’ to the rest of the group. I never know where to start…
So with that in mind, and knowing that a blog like this requires some kind of description, I thought I would give 5 images; with each of those images representing something, somewhere, or someone, that tells you something of who I am.
They are my beginning. In every sense. Having waited for so long to become a Mum, and coming to terms with the dread that I might never be, I now have two twin girls. The three of us are now just starting out on an adventure to build a family, and a life.
P.S This is not a perfect photo and this is why I chose it. Looking closely, one of my daughters has a mucky face, the other is chewing her sleeve – while I look on with a grin, ever so slightly in the wrong direction.
But the thing is, it’s just the three of us, and I took this picture myself. And that pretty much explains it all. We are three.
So this is me. A little girl who is four years old, dressed in a hand knit cardigan and a tame bird rested on my shoulder. I look at this photo sometimes, and when I do it tells me so much about who I am. When I am a little lost, it reminds me of who I am.
I grew up in Wales, although I was born in Derbyshire. My childhood involved farms, mountains, the sea and speaking two languages – English at home and English, and second-language Welsh both at school – and to the farmers’ wives, when visiting neighbouring farms with my Dad.
Those memories, sharp as pins, of sitting in clean, proud kitchens with welsh dressers and dainty china cups with roses on, influence me still. The steam rising from the hot tea, plates of scones with a fine dryness that needed the piping hot tea to balance it. There was a solemnness8 to the farmhouses, which I liked, a kind of Chapel-Sunday feeling.
As time and years pushes my childhood self further and further into the distance, there still lingers the little girl above in much of who I am today. If I knew her now, that little girl in the lace up sensible shoes, and hand knitted cardigan, I would give her a little cuddle, maybe watch over her in the company of more confident children who perhaps saw the world a little differently to the way she did. And I would provide her with an unlimited supply of notebooks, pencils and pens. And contraband bags of cola cubes.
Which leads me to….
Reading, writing and books
Oh my life, these three words are really the DNA of who I am. I read first, then when I could write, I wrote, and I haven’t ever really stopped. My first piece of writing was a poem, about a stream, which began rather whimsically and romantically ‘I like to wander by the stream…’ (Perhaps a little homage to Wordsworth there, and my Mum recited that poem to me a lot, sooo.) I ended the poem with the word plop, I think having run out of romantic and creative steam. No matter. I was only seven years old *polishes knuckles on jacket lapels*
Oh go on, you’ve twisted my arm, here it is.
I like to wander by the stream
It is a happy sound
I like to wander by the stream
It is a pleasant sound
I like to see the fishes when they swim by
And the sound they make is plop
Today I still love poetry. There is something in its immediacy that moves me inexplicably. Whereas a novel sweeps and expands, a poem takes you to the heart of something, and captures those moments not always easily written about in prose.
One of my favourite poems (no make that my favourite poem) is about a man hammering a nail, by Ralph Gustafson. The poem’s speaker illuminates that moment, that action of hitting a hammer, and in doing so conveys to the reader a fleeting glimpse into that man’s life, and the richness of his interior world. The action of the hammer, says the speaker, may be repetitive and singular, but the richness of the man’s interior world and the depth of his feelings, gives the repetition of hammering a hugely significant and almost spiritual meaning. That poem, to me, conveys everything I love about language and poetry.
Reading for me has been a source of comfort, inspiration, escapism, a medium for self-education and a way in which I have learnt about the world and the people that live in it. As a child (see above), I read the Famous Five, imagining myself as the diffident, rebellious, non-conforming George. Growing up in the wilds of Wales, she was my role model. I saw myself in her, I still do, as a matter of fact.
Then there was the wonderful Neverending Story. It was the experience of reading the book, which I loved as much as the book itself. It was a dull, rainy winter. I remember sitting, absorbed, bound, captured and taken away by the character Bastian, and his escape from the bullies into that strange, dreamlike world.
I read it in the kitchen, my back against the battered Rayburn, and I stayed there, all day and into the night, reading, reading, reading. When I think of that experience now, it makes me feel secure, safe and warm. To be taken somewhere else but knowing that you are grounded in the surroundings of your own home, knowing that everything is just as it should be.
Later on, in my early twenties I found a love for nineteenth century fiction and particularly anything written by Thomas Hardy. I read Tess of the D’urbervilles and fell in love with Tess. Her character, so brilliantly and beautifully and tragically written, still feels to me like she is a real, breathing woman. I became obsessed with his stories, the way his use of language and prose forced the reader to slow down, to not expect so much, so quickly, allowing the story to unfold at its own pace. His treatment and exploration of fate, destiny, free will and the interconnectedness of our lives just made his worlds so tangible and absorbing. He also wrote about place and belonging that resonated with me so much, feeling as I did at that time, as if I was displaced and rootless. He spoke of home, and I longed to go there.
I carried on writing myself all this time, journals, letter, reviews for the bookshop I worked in. I wrote in secret and filled books and notebooks with my thoughts. I started stories a dozen times over, with ideas I never managed to complete. I think it was when I decided to go back to University as a mature student to study English Literature, that I really began to settle into a more coherent writing voice. Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely neither prolific or successful. but I do write and I know far more about my own voice now, and the kind of writer I am. I just can’t imagine myself ever not writing. It is just how I make sense of what I see and how I feel. The part of me I can’t express is all hidden and woven into what I write.
The next is a strange one.
Worry, self-confidence, me.