I realise that I’m pretty good at telling myself – and other people – carefully crafted stories that have endured over a long period of time; stories that I’ve never thought to question.
In my non-fiction book coming out later this year in which I explore living for many years with chronic insomnia, I talk a little about how I always told people that my insomnia began with my first pregnancy. But then, while I was writing the book and simultaneously reading back over old diary entries, I realised that this wasn’t true at all. I appeared to be full of energy during that pregnancy. The truth was that the insomnia kicked in once my daughter was born. It’s a small thing and it doesn’t matter either way, but the fact remains that I moulded this story to be what I wanted and, in so doing, started to believe it.
Recently, I’ve started looking back over some much older diaries in which I place my first handprints on the wall: this is me and this is what I’m doing and feeling. One such book I wrote in at the age of ten and I was very surprised when I read an entry I’d penned about my character. You see, I’ve always told people – and clearly myself, for many years – that I wanted to be a writer from the time that I was a young child. Turns out, that’s not true either.
This is the book I wrote in:
And this is what I wrote:
Of course, once I’d read it, the memories resurfaced: those fervent dreams of a child to act; to be famous. (Hilariously, I was such a fan of Australian drama Neighbours that I was desperate to star on there one day). So why on earth do I tell everyone who asks that I’ve always wanted to be a writer ever since I learned how to write? Because I’ve changed the story over the years so that it suits the narrative I’ve crafted for myself. Was there a corner of my mind that believed it afforded me greater gravitas as a writer, a testament to my sheer will and staying power that this was the sole thing I’d ever wanted to do? Again, just like the insomnia story, it doesn’t really matter but it’s interesting how I’ve tweaked the truth to suit myself, just as I’m sure we all do over the years.
Now that I’m writing about it though, I’m thinking more about the real story. When did I really know I wanted to write seriously? It’s definitely true that I always loved writing stories and poems as a young child and, thanks to an incredible primary school teacher, I believed in my ability to write. At secondary school, writing creatively completely slipped off the radar. Then, in my early twenties I lived in Granada for a couple of years in Spain where I taught English. If you believe that a place can speak to you, then this is what happened: Granada spoke to me from its slanted streets in the Albaicín; from the caves of Sacromonte stencilled into the hillside and grazed with prickly-pear and cacti, from the secret courtyards or carmens hidden behind grand wooden doors; from the snow-covered Sierra Nevada. And the idea started forming to set a story in this enchanted and enchanting city, based around a large family, though it wasn’t till a few years later that I really started setting pen to paper.
It feels good sometimes to loosen the strings we have bound tightly around the stories we tell ourselves. It may not be the narrative I’ve shared with people, but I’m happy with the fact that my first dream was to act.
What about you? What are the stories that you tell yourself?