I was an odd child. I think people my own age thought I was weird and I knew they were right. Teachers thought I was smart but a little socially inept, and parents assumed I was shy, quiet and studious. I had lots of inner conversations. I still do. I’m always picking apart small dialogues or events and trying to find the deeper meaning or the adjunct to something else that happens later or the seed of it all or the root or whatever. See what I mean? And sometimes these conversations with myself end up as conversations in something I’m writing.
I was also very sensitive. Cried at run-over sparrows. Cried if someone bullied my sister. Cried at David Attenborough documentaries- I still do that but not at tear-jerker movies (although I wish I did.) Crying is such a relief.
I believed pretty much everything I read in books, or at least I wished it was true and I ordered my life so that it was true. I think all kids embrace possibilities. Nothing is beyond belief. They accept magic and extra-dimensions and outer space aliens and talking lions and worlds without parental power. Until it is all shaken out of them by the grind of daily activity and sometimes in worse ways. It’s a crime and a pity and it was captured so well in Peter Pan. Maybe writing is connecting with your inner Pan- the child who just wanted to play all day every day and ‘pretend’and fall asleep easily in a state of contented exhaustion. No worries, no questions, no meaningless, never-ending attempts to figure out the why.
When I was ten or so I was a tomboy. I had always been called Jo or JoJo but there were a couple of years in there that I went back to Joanna for some reason. I think I was trying to fit in where a girl was supposed to. Anyway I had my hair lopped off and I already wore glasses and I was tall and skinny and liked pants and sweaters and sword-fighting. I remember starting at a new school where they sat boys and girls at different tables and I was placed at the girl table because of course the teacher knew but the other girls didn’t and they were appalled to find a ‘boy’ in their midst. We made friends eventually and they did their things and I continued to bury my nose in books and bird watch and climb tree and train to be a detective (thank you, Harriet the Spy). And then I found a few books about girls who wanted to be boys, just like me, and at school I met up with a kid named Emma and one named Rachel and they looked like Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger respectively, and it was magic. Actually Percy Flannery from my books is sort of modeled after Emma who had blonde curls and blue eyes and could climb like a monkey (and I am only just now realizing that.)
I want to take the opportunity here to just thank my parents for letting me be.
I started reading to escape into other places and into other people’s heads, and I think I started writing to make sense of what was in my head. The things from as early as I could remember that had stuck in there and dictated how I was, how I am. You could take two people from the same time, witnessing the same event and they would remember it in a completely different way. They would attach some of their own ‘stuff’ onto the memory. It’s happened with my sister before because what is important to me, is different for her, although we do share so much.
In the past, in a much more overt way I dealt with my issues in my writing. Thinly-veiled or taken directly from my recollection of the event. I’d change a few names, cast myself in a better light, transpose my ‘stuff’ onto my characters. It was stiff and not always well-written but I got it out onto paper and something became clearer. So it was therapy for me and also the beginning of some good writing which is like getting two for one at the donut shop.
Writing for children is different although their challenges are huge to them and should be taken seriously. I look at my kids and they remind me how monumental and frightening some things used to be to me. Seeing my mum cry or hearing my parents argue. These were like the ending of my world. I remember and it helps me get inside my 12- year old character’s head and do a little spring-cleaning in my own at the same time.