When I was a child, and up until my early teens, my imagination was a vibrant companion, much better than any of the friends whom I used to share my days with at the time. I was a prolific story-teller, always doodling, sketching, scribbling, writing. During class I used to sketch, at break I used to play cards with my girlfriends and at home I would continue the writing that had been initiated by the drawing.
In fact, when I was at primary, I was known as Sketch; I think I was sort of self-named as when anyone would ask me what I was doing, the reply would almost invariably be ‘sketching’. So I became Sketch, taking drawing commissions from my friends and delivering copious doodles in pencil at every break-time. It seems evident to me now that I was somewhat destined for a career at Marvel. If only I had known about them...
Later, sketching became a way to imagine stories before I would write them. With adult hindsight I can see now that all I was doing was story-boarding to the most minute detail. It didn’t apply just to writing; I couldn’t possibly play with my Barbies unless I had actually story-boarded the whole story I would have them act out. My parents used to buy me Barbie magazine and I think that seeing picture stories beautifully shot and arranged as if the dolls were real people made a very powerful impression on my imagination. I couldn’t take pics of my Barbies, but I could draw them down and see my stories on paper before I had to rehearse them in real life (or as real as dolls can be, if you know what I am saying).
Eventually all of this drawing and doodling, which used to annoy many of the other children I knew, the sort of children whose drawn pigs, dogs and horses all looked the same, stick figures that would not have been out of place in a Palaeolithic cave, died out, replaced almost completely by words.
Words, words, words everywhere, in diaries and journals, in letters, postcards, scraps of papers and notebooks. By the time I turned fourteen, I had already written two full novels and I am pleased to say (no, not pleased, smug) that I had somewhat figured out that they were not the next Anna Karenina or the next Dracula and so used to refer to them as ‘short novels for the younger audience’.
Pages and pages of neat longhand in thick blue fountain-pen ink. I re-read one of them not long ago and I am wondering how the fuck I could possibly not have known the difference between a subjunctive and a conditional. I was fourteen for God’s sake! If I had a daughter I would drill those differences into her skull before she can take an unaccompanied wee! So yes, my first efforts are embarrassing, as I think all first efforts are (bar Mozart’s of course), but they are living testament to an incredibly fervid imagination, something that, I fear, I have lost.
For the past fifteen years I have written almost exclusively non fiction. I started with essays which swelled from a few hundred words (at college) to a couple of thousands (at university). My short book is over 20,000 words, which is nearly good enough for an MA degree, while what I keep referring as the ‘small little leg left’ of my PhD research is, in fact, many more thousands of words, even though the quantity is not half as intimidating as it used to be at the beginning of the project, when I only had a vague inkling of where I wanted to be but no idea whatsoever of how to get there.
All of this non fiction, the one I write and the one I read, seems to have turned me into an analytical researcher incapable to think of something new. It’s like all of the ideas I had as a child, all of the possibilities that the characters in my head could play out, are now reduced only to the possibilities that I know of, not to the ones that I dream.
For the last couple of years, a couple of storylines have hummed to themselves at the back of my head, their simmering at once loud and then ebbing, coming and going, moving closer and further away with the flow of life. One of these two ideas is not even a new idea; it is in fact something I’ve been mulling over since I was twelve.
It came as a surprise this morning to wake up to the harsh reality of my bedroom after I dreamt of writing a whodunit. In my dream I saw characters, motives, location, season; I even saw myself doing research in the specific places that would play background to my story, a voice telling me the closing line to the novel which pays homage to my own fixation for judging a book at buying time by the last few lines, not the opening ones. Maybe this has happened as a blend of dream and reality; only a few days back I was reading about Shelley and how the vision of Frankenstein’s monster came to her as she was trying to sleep, part-nightmare, part-subconscious creature. There’s no monster in my whodunit; I am just grateful my imagination hasn’t really died. And I suppose now I should get out one of the notebooks and should get down to some sketching.