I’m not a hoarder. But some items are hard to give away. Books in particular. I try to limit new acquisitions to ebook format, but I do love the heft and character of a print edition. And as I spend a lot of hours gazing at the screen while working as a writer, it’s good to give my eyes a break when reading for pleasure. My house has multiple bookshelves in almost every room (the bathroom wouldn’t be kind to them.) My collection includes some precious old editions that belonged to my mother, among them The Golden Staircase: Poems for Children (1906), whose colour plates I remember vividly from childhood. The Golden Staircase contains such classics as Wordsworth’s Lucy Gray (who wandered out in a storm and was lost forever, but maybe still haunts the moors) and The Forsaken Merman by Matthew Arnold. Its dramatic illustration of the merman and his children reaching out from the waves for their lost human wife and mother is an old friend – when young, I could probably have recited the whole poem by heart. We were, and are, a family that values and enjoys reading.
I recently came upon a box of juvenilia: examples of my childhood writing, mostly in small lined exercise books. Some were written in pencil and are now faded beyond reading, but most are in pen and ink or typed neatly on a manual typewriter by my mother, who was always supportive of my efforts. So we have the story about killer robots, written at around age 8. It’s dramatic and bloody, but ends well when the practical kid saves the day. We have two adventures of Professor Frank Osborne, Naturalist, in which he firstly discovers prehistoric life in the fiords of New Zealand, and later goes on an expedition to Mars. The first story has a great conservation message. The second lacks scientific accuracy but I remember that my friends enjoyed it. That story, written when I was 11, includes not only a mad Russian scientist but a cat who stows away on the spaceship and has kittens during the voyage. After that, I suspect someone challenged me to write what I knew, as there’s a story about difficulties among school friends and another starring a pet rat (I had one at the time.)
The writing of slightly older Juliet reflects what I was reading at age 13-15: historical fiction by authors like Rosemary Sutcliff and Geoffrey Trease, along with myths and legends. I started experimenting with style and structure, sometimes quite well, sometimes not. It’s fascinating and salutory to revisit those early efforts. I see a nascent author there, and I remember how a story idea would grip me and refuse to let go until I got it down on the page. No wonder I had rather a limited social life as a teenager!
But then … I stopped. I didn’t do any creative writing from my mid-teens until my mid-forties. Instead I pursued a career in music, raised a family, made quite a few wrong turnings, and generally grew up a lot more. I kept on reading; fiction was a great solace and strengthener, especially when real life got too hard. I learned about being sad and angry and closed-up. There were many good parts, too. And eventually I started writing again. What drew me back to the craft? What made it possible after so long away?