What do you want to be when you grow up? The question asked by adults to children. Interesting question really.
What do you want to BE? Not, what do you want to DO?
I was asked this a lot I seem to recall as a child. Each time I would mull it over, the possibilities seemed endless, the barriers to achievement, non-existent. I wanted to be a footballer, a lawyer, a golfer, a doctor, an actor, a film star, a journalist, a DJ, a sports commentator, a rugby player and who knows what else.
The reality was I had no idea and no true grasp of the fact that the day might actually come when a decision is needed on what you are to be, or in fact, to do.
The one thing I never, as a child, said I wanted to BE, was a writer. Which is strange, because it is the ONLY thing I’ve ever wanted to DO. I’ve written, told stories, invented fantasies and fictional scenarios for as long as I’ve been able to scrawl the alphabet into a primary school exercise book. In standard 2 (year 4 in modern class terms) I wrote a first person story about a footballer appearing in the FA Cup Final. I didn’t plan the story out, didn’t have an idea of the ending. I plunged in one afternoon after last break, describing the teams, the player, his feelings about the match. I gave details about the stadium, the weather, the fact that there was a player on the other side who was in some way my hero’s enemy. I forget the reason for the enmity but, as a regular subscriber to Roy of the Rovers my suspicion is that I may have lifted some marital crisis that I didn’t really understand from the pages of my favourite comic of the time.The story ran and ran and ran. Weeks went by and still I found myself writing, describing the action of this make-believe match. A goal, a corner, a throw-in, all intricately woven into the narrative as I lost myself in fantasy and felt compelled to write on so that I could find out what happened next. I genuinely didn’t know.My teacher at the time would joke, gently tease me.
“Have we reached half-time yet?”
“This must be the longest football match in history.”
Still, though, to his eternal credit, his encouragement never faltered. And the truth is, I didn’t want to reach the end. I was enjoying it too much. I was enjoying losing myself in the telling of the story, the world that I had created, the control I had over events. I was enjoying the very act of writing itself.
You see, I never wanted to BE a writer.
I just wanted to write.
I received the email in February. The day was cold and damp and had started badly. En route to Bristol for an appointment with work I felt the distinctive, stomach hollowing wobble and pull on the steering wheel of my car that indicates trouble of the tyre variety. A puncture to the rear wheel on the passenger side.
I was going to be late.
I was going to get wet.
I was going to get oil on my hands.
And probably my trousers and shirt.
There was also the not insignificant matter of the cost to repair the loathsome circle of rubber.
Now, it is probably fair to say that my skills in the field of tyre changing are such that I won’t be troubling the folk at McLaren for a job in the pit lane any time in the near future. I waged war with the nuts on the wheel, growing ever nearer the moment I became a tree thrashing Basil Fawlty while the rain fell with a monotonous soaking drizzle (is there any worse kind of rain than drizzle?). It was barely nine o’clock in the morning and already shaping up to be the worst day of the year thus far.
Of course, I eventually won the battle with my tyre – albeit at great cost to my cleanliness and sense of manly competence – and made my belated way to the appointment before heading back across the Severn Bridge and a reluctant visit to the tyre repair shop whereupon I heard the dreaded noise.
The sucking of air through teeth that indicates the tyre is a goner and utterly un-repairable. As Homer Simpson so elegantly puts it: D’oh!
Retreating to the Greggs around the corner for an emergency pasty I thumbed over my Iphone, glancing in on Facebook, noting how wonderful the day seemed to be shaping up for many of my friends, before checking my emails. It was the usual stuff: offers from hotels I may have once stayed in, Amazon letting me know of some MUST READS, BT letting me know my bill is ready. And one small little email from Tomos Owen with the title Nu 2. I’d submitted a story – Five Past Twelve – to Nu (of Parthian Books) for their anthology some months earlier so I opened up to have a read, preparing myself to add another rejection note to the digital pile.
“I’m delighted to inform you that we have selected ‘Five Past Twelve’ for inclusion in the forthcoming anthology.”
I read the email a second time. The words remained the same. I logged out of my emails and logged back in again. It was still there, still saying the same thing. As they say in Message Forums throughout the internet: OMG.
They liked it. Somebody out there liked my story to the extent that they wanted to put it into their anthology. I’d love to tell you that it stopped raining at that point and a little ray of sunshine broke through the clouds and shone upon me. Alas, that was not so.
Although it didn’t half make the pasty taste nicer.
Any aspiring writer who says they don’t get a tingle of joy at news that their work is to be published is, I am certain, being sheepishly economical with the truth. It’s a wonderful feeling; the reason we writers persist with pushing our fingers against the keyboards day after day.
Writers are parents, the stories their offspring. We nurture them and love them and once they are fully grown we, often with heart-wrenching difficulty and reluctance, send them out into the big wide world, eager that they fend for themselves, desperate for them to succeed.
I make no apology for displaying happiness that my story is to be featured in NU 2: Memorable Firsts. Happiness that someone has been kind enough to think it merits inclusion and happiness that it will feature alongside writers of immense talent. Happiness that I can proclaim to be a published writer.
Nu 2: Memorable Firsts is published through Parthian Books and available to order now. It will be launched officially on July 13th at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. If you can make it, do come along.