My life flashed before my eyes this weekend. It was a humbling experience.
Ok, not my full life, my literary life. So it was, of course, pretty brief. And cringeworthy.
I was in my parents' house, reluctantly clearing out the final bits and bobs from a bedroom that I haven't slept in for over 18 months. I use the word "reluctantly" because my mother has been pleading with me to to do it for exactly 18 months, so I finally relented. There was only so much time that could be lapsed before I could stop blaming my sinuses/telling her I thought I'd left the oven on at home/telling her I was "soooooo tired".
I was going through the last remaining storage container, weeding through old tax certificates, letters from friends while I was in Irish college and old birthday cards (seriously, what are you supposed to do with all that stuff after a few years?!), feeling fairly certain that there was nothing of any sentiment left in the box. Until I hit gold.
At the very bottom of the container I found a few copies, covered in dust. I assumed they were copies from primary school with doodles and essays written in them. Following a severe sneezing fit (and a subsequent break to find some tissues for my nose and eyes) I returned to my treasure chest and like a dramatic movie sign (think Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones) I blew the dust off the covers and discovered.... these:
No, your eyes do not deceive you - these are the actual, original manuscripts of the books that I wrote when I was in primary and secondary school. The (amazingly creative) titles of my books were "Summer Camp", "Going to Greece", "The Island", "The Ghost of Kingdrel Boarding School" and "The Keeper of the Keys".
To be honest it feels a bit like when I find an old photo of myself as a teenager with a massive fuzzy barnet and eyebrows that would put Groucho Marx to shame (trust me, there are tonnes of those photos around; my mother refused to throw those out). I see photos like that and think "Oh my god, did I actually look like that??" Except now I'm thinking "Did I actually write that??" Yes, I'm afraid I did.
Such was my confidence at being a bone fide author, it seems that I even took on the role of Executive Illustrator and Cover Designer, although by the time I hit "Keeper of the Keys" I had obviously figured out how to use Microsoft Word, especially the Clip Art function. That must have been such a proud day.
It's funny though because I remember writing those books at around 9 or 10 years of age and really, genuinely believing that I was going to be a successful writer when I grew up. In fact, I figured that I had a head start on everyone else because I had these novels already penned by the time I left primary school.
If only it was that simple...
Another interesting fact about my early books is the fact that I finished all of them. Ok, so they were only school copy books (A5 size) with 88 pages in them (and a lot of self penned illustrations within these 88 pages) but I finished them all. How the hell did I have the motivation to do that at 10 years of age?! I can barely finish a sentence of my novel right now, let alone the whole book. Where did I lose that ability along the way?
Maybe it's working full time in a stressful job that's added to it? Maybe it's the daily commute (ok, I know I go on about my commute a lot in my blogs but it really is hard some days!). Or maybe my cynicism has just morphed significantly during my transition into adulthood from a healthy dose of it to a toxic measure. I think we've found a winner.
I think if I went back to my 10 year old self and told her that in 14 years time she would be a social worker with very little time for writing, she'd probably start to cry (although I cried at the drop of a hat at 10 so it wouldn't be that surprising. In fact, that's probably one thing that hasn't changed since I was 10).
But in reality, it's not such a bad thing. I like my job (I definitely can't say that it's unfulfilling or not challenging) but at the same time, it was a pleasure to be sitting in my old bedroom, and transported back to my old, naive view of the writing world. Just because life doesn't turn out the way you'd hoped, it doesn't make it any less sweet. But at the same time, it felt nice to rediscover just how important writing is, and always has been, to me. Just in case I needed to be reminded.
But overall, I think the most important thing I've learned from this experience is to leave the illustrations to the professionals. Even with my discovery of clip art.