There’s been nothing that I have wanted to do more than write for as long as I can remember.
There’s been nothing that I have had less faith in myself to accomplish than write for as long as I can remember.
However, the desire has thankfully overcome the doubt for a moment here and there.
Being gifted at something (or at least that’s what I have been lead to believe about my ability to put words one after another) hasn’t necessarily evoked the positive feedback one would have hoped for or expected.
Rather than be praised for this talent as a young child, it was dismissed. As I got older, I became more and more aware that my familial role models were not ‘ideal’ for a would be writer, nor interested, especially as English for my Mother was a second language. To give her credit, her spoken and written English far exceeds that of many people born and bred in this fair country and her choice of reading matter far exceeds my own. Or did, prior to the dementia robbing her of that joy. It’s hard to read when after you have devoured a sentence or two you can no longer remember their content.
At my second primary school based in Central London, I was one of vey few children in my class who was actually fluent in English, which put the brakes on my learning for a while.
By the age of thirteen, I was determined to be a journalist.
Writing what in particular, I didn’t know but record reviews seemed to be a good place to start, so I used to wander into the Record Mirror offices on my way to school and join in their Friday morning meetings.
Gossip for the daily nationals also appealed but my career there was thwarted somewhat, when after being invited to an incredible celebrity-filled party in New York at the age of 13, if I could get myself there, I didn’t manage to achieve my aims.
I thought perhaps if I offered the Daily Mirror exclusive stories from the party they in turn could pay for my flight and accommodation, so turned up at their offices and asked to speak with John Blake whose name was in big letters above the column.
John and his colleagues (Gill Pringle and Linda Duff) very kindly listened to everything I had to say and John even went as far as speaking with the Editor about sending me on my first ever trans-Atlantic trip – but sadly it was not meant to be. I was too young, they said, but I learned that it’s always worth asking.
By the age of fourteen, my best friend and I were running around like would-be Hedda Hoppers to all of the best clubs and events around London seven nights a week (still managing to study, too) and having a ball as regular gossip columnists for Gay News.
We were on all of ‘the’ guest lists or had VIP memberships to every happening venue and knew everybody that there was to know. The 80s were an incredible time to grow up but for us it was beyond anything we had ever dreamed of. Our first official night out brought us to The Mud Club at Foubert’s, just off Carnaby Street. We were wearing our cobbled together Westwood rip-off outfits that we had made earlier that day from remnants and staples but in the dark who could tell?
Over the following year or so our fortnightly column became a ‘must read’ for all of London’s glitterati, most especially because they were now our friends. We had turned many of these friends into regular characters whose larger than life exploits just had to be followed week after week like a soap opera.
Too soon for comfort my ‘O’ levels started to loom over me and I had to make the decision to concentrate on my studies, so said goodbye to the column. It was an incredibly diffiult decision but had to be done.
I was fortunate to have a good memory and so was able to retain most information from lessons and regurgitate it on to an exam paper which garnered me 8 good grades. I even achieved a B for my English exam, having snuck out of it early (with my headmistress’s permission) to go and interview the singer and actor ‘Divine’ at Zandra Rhodes home in Notting Hill.
Every day was an adventure and my dream of becoming a journalist seemed to be on its way to reality. I was given other work, providing gossip items for the dailies, even spending time sitting alongside a young Piers Morgan at The Sun, both of us working for Rick Sky. I also worked with Mizz Magazine.
However, I started to have a crisis of confidence. My best friend was a great writer and had limitless support from her parents. She had also not taken me saying goodbye to the column very well and it created a distance between us. As her abilities grew, mine seemed to diminish. I felt uncomfortable trying to compete and so stepped back as she took great strides forward.
Writing was still my solace and I indulged in it all the time. Rather than writing for others I started writing for myself and as an antidote to the abuse (sexual, emotional and physical) that I was still on the receiving end of at home, I thought putting my own story down in words would be therapeutic.
My manuscript started to grow very rapidly. There was a great deal to say and before long I had an inch high stack of paper that contained details of the first 18 years of my life. I had written all the events in chronological order but in the third person. My story was written as a story, which gave me the distance I needed in order to relive it, as I found the right words to convey it to print.
I put that inch of manuscript away in a drawer and left it there for safe-keeping.
Over the course of the following few months, I left home to escape the horrors during a brief conversation in my best friend’s mothers car. She had come to collect me and upon seeing the expression on my face as I closed the front door behind me, suggested that I go back inside, pack a bag or two and officially move in with them.
I moved in but my manuscript didn’t.
Within 48 hours my grandfather suffered a massive stroke which would lead to his death. My Mother refused to call me and so we didn’t get to say our goodbyes, even though he was asking to see me.
By the time I knew what was going on, he was dead. He was the love of my grandmother’s life and so I trepidatiously returned home on a visit to see her.
My grandmother, although devastated, seemed more interested in why I had left home.
“Does ‘he’ come into your room at night?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
Following this public revelation, there was a giant furore and the relationship between my Mother and I was now completely strained. Obviously.
Some weeks later, I returned to the house, firstly making sure that ‘he’ was nowhere to be seen (a pattern that would become fixed for almost the following three decades), to retrieve a few more of my personal things. Including my manuscript.
It wasn’t unusual that things would go missing and not be in the last place I left them. ‘He’ had a habit of trying to drive me insane by moving things and then replacing them weeks later, so initially I was extremely irritated that the manuscript was nowhere to be seen and extremely concerned that perhaps during it’s temporary relocation it had been read.
Every single word in it was truthful but as a child who had been brought up to ignore reality or to steadfastly deny it, I was still afraid of speaking my truth.
What I should have been more afraid of was that it had gotten into the wrong hands.
I asked my Mother if she had seen some of my ‘writing.’ Rather than the denial I was expecting, she said that she had. She also added that she had taken it and given it to a solicitor to use as evidence against me if I ever took the ‘stepmonster’ to court.
I was dumbfounded.
My breath was more than taken away. I felt like someone had kicked me in the gut and had completely winded me to the point of blacking out. There are no words to describe a betrayal of this magnitude; that your own Mother deems you to be Public Enemy No. 1. My Mother had not only chosen to take a side; the side of her paedophile husband but she was also gathering evidence against me. Her child. Her only child. The victim.
Stephen Fry only this week apparently said that survivors of childhood sexual abuse’s ‘self pity gets none of his sympathy,’ clearly not understanding that anything can trigger PTSD. We sufferers do not get to choose what will trigger flashbacks and trauma. If only we did because we could then avoid those things or change them.
Writing for me became a trigger, or at least writing my story and to a great extent, the telling of it. If childhood sexual abuse ever came up in conversation, or indeed, my own experience with the few people who knew about it, I would gloss over the details and feelings as though they had happened to someone else. I still do to a great extent. It’s easier to remove oneself and to experience it in the third person.
When you look around you at all the people you know think about what dreams they may have given up, not because they were not good enough but because the cost far exceeded their emotional budget.
Writing wrongs is far harder than you might think.
*For all the posts in this series, please click here: