Thursday, 3 October 2013

Half-finished jotters and midnights feasts

Scrap paper was hard to come by when I was a child so half-used school jotters came in very handy. What I most liked to do in them was not to actually write a story, but to think up titles, and names for characters, and then compose the blurbs (although of course I didn’t know that word at the time) for a long list of books I was going to write … one day.

All of these embryo books were for girls and most of them were set in boarding schools or in Cornwall. As my only experience of boarding school was through the eyes of Enid Blyton and Malory Towers, and as I had never been further south than Carrbridge in Inverness shire, my blurbs reflected the books I loved to read. I was writing about what I wanted to know, rather than what I knew.

There’s nothing wrong with that but in hindsight I wish I’d thought a little closer to home; it would be interesting for me, if no one else, to read now something of my ten-year-old self and what she thought of her surroundings and place in the world. It never occurred to me for a minute to write about what I knew. My life on a Highland farm seemed dull and ordinary, compared with the lives of girls who had midnight feasts in the dorm or found long-lost treasure in Cornish caves.

I was obsessed with names (still am, a blog subject for another time), so my blurbs each had at least four girls’ names in them plus a made-up name for their school or village or house. Again, these didn’t reflect my own local area, where place-names tended to have Gaelic origins, but were fanciful adaptations from those in my favourite books.

I still have the jotters I wrote those blurbs in and it’s fair to say that it’s no loss to the world that only one of them progressed any further. That was a story set in Cornwall called The Family at Greengates. I’ve still got the jotter it’s written in too, a hardback one, with about eight thousand words of – there’s no denying it – derivative drivel. So I wish, too, that I’d tried then to find my own writing voice rather than aping others.

I don’t want to write for children now but I love to read books for that age group by contemporary writers, and can highly recommend a brilliant time-slip novel called Beswitched by Kate Saunders. Guess what? – it’s set in a boarding school and during the holidays the heroine stays at her friend’s home in the West Country.

And guess what again? Fast forward to my writing a serial for The People’s Friend. It’s set in the Scottish Highlands and I’d called it Farrshore Summer. The People’s Friend renamed it The Family at Farrshore, by coincidence almost the same title as my childhood effort, and it was subsequently also published as a large-print paperback.

If my ten-year-old self could have known that was going to happen she’d have had a midnight feast to celebrate.

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