Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Why I Write

 What makes us write? Because we love reading. Because we love books and stories. Because there's a story out there that no one else has written yet, and we want to write it down. Because it's an escape. Because we want to share something with other people. Because because because.

Whilst all of the above is true, for me, I also have a rather different reason that I wanted to share. This is not supposed to be a self-indulgent post; I've been around on here for just under two years [blimey!] and I've only mentioned it once, rather fleetingly. Most of the time it isn't important, in fact I'd prefer you think that it's not important, but sometimes it is and that's the way life goes. And, considering this blog started as a tale of me and my writing, I think it's important to talk about properly. So, whilst I stop contradicting myself, make yourself a cuppa.

So. Why do I write? I write because I'm not supposed to be able to. I was born with a genetic condition no one then knew the name of, which meant my fingers were fused together [ectrodactyly and syndactyly]. So I had two lumps of bone and skin attached to the end of my wrists. Through a long series of operations [the first when I was three months old], surgeons crafted fingers for me. I have a couple missing, and they're pretty weird shapes.

I really do think that because holding and pencil/pen and writing was such a weird thing for me, and I practiced so hard at doing it, that that is why I got to love writing. Writing more and practicing is the only way that a writer gets better [that and reading as widely as possible - and I read a lot!]. Oh, I was a little brat. I wrote my first novel [Zippy the Wizard] when I was nine. I wrote plays in Year Five and my class performed them to the school. Thank goodness my parents didn't have a flippin' camcorder; in my mind they shall remain good plays!

People say that children can be cruel but, at my school, the kids were pretty excellent. I was more likely to get teased for being a swot more than anything else. But the teachers and adults of this world? Blimey. When my first poem was published in the TES when I was eleven, the local paper came round to take my photograph and my English teacher asked me if I'd like to wear gloves for it. I mean, really? Oh, yes, and there was the time the PE teacher held special GCSE classes for her year elevens to come and work out why I was able to throw a ball really far because, according to her, I shouldn't have been able to do that. I get people looking at me funny on the tube and taking photos (like, for real). Working in bookselling, I get the occasional person who won't take change from me and asks me to put it down on the desk in front of them instead; or is patronising; or comes out nervously with ridiculous questions like 'Wow, can you like... dress yourself?' [that's not made up, yo]. Kids? Yes, they're interested; they ask sometimes. Normally they just want to know if it hurts. The worst thing is when their parents try and stop them. Don't do that to your children; get them to embrace difference, get them to ask, because once you say to them 'I was born like that' they normally just say 'Cool!' and go off and do something else, but if you don't talk to them about it then they think there's something wrong with it. Vanessa's son [at the Edinburgh Bookshop] thinks I'm really awesome because some day my hands are going to be made out of metal and I could punch anyone I liked [oh to be twelve again!].

Sorry, I sidetracked a bit there. Yes. So. When I was eight I got all stubborn I went as far as learning how to play the piano - all the grades and all that (I got told off in my exams for 'using the wrong fingering' *facepalm). And, whilst I can no longer play very well, the knowledege that I did that will always be really important to me. My hands were also not the only thing affected by my genetic condition (EEC Syndrome); I was born without tear ducts, I have some webbed toes [let's go swimming!], I have cleft kidneys, I had teeth in various parts of my skull so I've had some ops. on my eyes and my mouth, I had to have a biopsy to my tongue last year [that was not pleasant!] to remove part of it.

So. Why am I talking about this? Because everyone has struggles. I'm not sitting here going 'oh, woe is me!' Hell, no. But I think that there's certainly something to be said for writers who have struggled through something, whatever that something might be, and need to find a way to express themselves [even if it's only struggling against rejection!]. I'm not saying that you should write specifically about what troubles you, no. And dealing with your own raw emotion when writing, if you haven't dealt with it elsewhere, normally leads to awful writing. [Please do not write poems about your dead hamster. Thank you. Actually, I wrote a short story about the life of my hamster when I was twelve and sent it off to Penguin saying that I'd like them to publish it before Christmas so that I could give copies of it to my family. I think I still have that rejection letter somewhere - those bastards. PS Penguin, I still love you a little bit.]

So, yes. There we go. Let your children (if you have them) ask about differences - embrace differences yourself. And if you want to write, then bloody well write. Go on. Off you go. You never know what might happen. x


  1. And the clumsiest cat in human history is right beside you on this one - face the world with your tail held high, whiskers out, ears up and a confident purr and it does not matter if you fall over your paws occasionally! Hugs.

  2. You're one of the bravest people I know and I'll never forget that when you came to do work experience with us you never mentioned your hands at all - in fact we barely noticed because you just got stuck into everything. You're going to be absolutely great and when you're getting better I shall come down to Newcastle and take you out for lunch to celebrate your new improved hands - you are having op in Newcastle aren't you?

  3. you are tremendously beautiful AND brilliant. love you xx

  4. How you became a poet's a mystery!
    Wherever did you get your talent from?

    I say: I had two uncles, Joe and Harry-
    one was a stammerer, the other dumb.

    (Tony Harrison. 'Heredity').

    I think you'll also like this quotation from a letter by Ted Hughes (which I used as an epigram to my poem on this subject):

    I’ve noticed, the closer you get to the real thing in any bout of writing, the more formidable are the perverse interruptions, the deflections, tempting diversions and sheer obstacular incidents. The Alchemists were so familiar with it, they gave it a name – Ophiucos i.e. the Great Snake (no less!)

    (Ted Hughes. Letter to William Scammell. 2 October 1993. Letters of Ted Hughes. Selected & Edited by Christopher Reid. Faber & Faber, 2007. 648, 649).

    And this blog on 'The Hand' by one of my closest friends:

    You still have those deep and peerless eyes in that photo of you as a baby.

    May I take this opportunity to say that you CD of poems has been of immense solace to me whenever I listen to it (which I have done countless times over the previous months).

    Do keep me emailed about the op. 'The Superglue Boy' at that age ... I want to embrace you! Funnily the word verification on here was 'handes'.

  5. You are the single strongest, bravest most incredible-est person I know. Fact. You have NO idea of the high esteem in which I hold you, or of how proud I am of you. You are marvellous, and you should be so so proud of yourself. You also should teach me to throw, because I can't. At all.
    Love you x

  6. Way to be! To be positive, funny, honest, and true to yourself. I have ten digits and a desire to write...and mostly a desire. What's my excuse for not pursuing it? We learn what we are able to achieve by pushing ourselves through that hard, anxious place. Inspiring life, what you've got there. ;)

  7. I, also, should not be able to write, according to "experts." I have ADHD, and the combination of reading and writing is supposed to be too boring for people with ADHD to be able to focus on the task. However, good stories were the one thing, growing up, that consistently held my attention, so perhaps it's no wonder I began to write. But, in any case, I really identified with your post, especially the part about allowing children to ask questions instead of shushing them, and I am really glad you wrote this. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  8. I read this a couple of hours ago and have been trying to think of something to say that sums up the way it made me feel. I could say that this post is inspirational, that I felt uplifted and impressed, but really, the best way to sum it up is that it made me want to have a cup of tea and a biscuit with you, then hug you, hopefully on the path to friendship. Hope that isn't too creepy!

  9. I don't think I'd ever notice your hands with a face as beautiful as yours. I would, however, notice that you can't pronounce 'plastic' properly. Shame.

    (Late in coming here: hope the op was successful and you are moving on to Grade 9 - if it exists.)

  10. Thank you :) *hugs* op was successful. Grade eight is the highest grade, though :) xx

  11. Very inspirational post. :) Had no idea there was such a syndrome, so thanks for enlightening not just me but everyone else who comes across this blog!

  12. Found you by way of a winding rabbit trail...and I had to comment. A classmate of mine in an art class way back in our school days had one hand with two fingers only. I noticed when I first met her, then I saw her work and I watched her paint and sculpt and build and the art that she created was beautiful and breath taking. There have been many times in the years since when I've faced what some would call impossible odds and I remember back to the friend I had at 16 who refused to accept her circumstances. And I rally and conquer every single time. May your writing have the same effect on others that her artwork had on me!

  13. Hi there.

    My wife and I adopted a little boy with EEC syndrome. He's had three operations so far, the last one being to remove a couple of toes and graft them onto his hand. This has given him four stubby fingers on his left hand, and four fingers of the right length on his right. He's currently mastering a pen and learning to write (he's 5). Your story is inspirational and one that I can see us returning to time and again.

    Thank you.

  14. Huh, and I thought you were brave for toughing out customer service in the face of abject stupidity, but now... wow.

    You rock.