I didn’t realize I had square pegs in nearly all my stories.
It has come as quite a revelation. Most unexpected. I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know about myself. Just goes to show you; you’re never too old to learn a thing or two.
See, I’ve always felt like an outsider looking in. A watcher. A rememberer. I remember the strangest things: the colour of the upholstery in a certain restaurant in Aberdeen; what the skinny guy on the train to Barcelona in 1964 was wearing on his feet. (I saw something funny in espadrilles WAY before Victoria Wood)
On that same trip to Spain with my mother where I saw the man in espadrilles, I had my first shattering moment of self- awareness. Hurtling through French countryside on the sleeper train, I would stand in the corridor and watch fields of sunflowers zipping by. I’d wave at lines of motorists and cyclists waiting at level crossings while unfamiliar, foreign bells clanged and wonder about their lives. These foreign people. How was it that just the other side of this glass window I had my face pressed against, there were hundreds of other lives that for one instant, as the train flashed past, met and became one? How exciting and uncontrollable was that?
But more than that, the face pressed against the window thing was a perfect image of myself.
When I went back to school after that man in the espadrilles holiday, I wrote poetry and had some published in the school magazine. Mother was over the moors. ( see what I did there? Yorkshire wit? Never mind.) And Miss Jones, who had served jury duty at the Penguin/Lady Chatterley court case only a few years before, said to me, Celia, she said, you are so metaphysical my dear. This is your forte.
I looked it up in my school dictionary and decided she was right. I was a serious child, given to wearing dark colours, usually navy blue and bottle green at the same time, so I suppose I always looked like a square peg. Someone different. An outsider. Not quite fitting in with the crowd. Now I had a reason. I was metaphysical. Miss Jones said so. I wore my bottle green cardigan as a totem of my new-found faith and stopped worrying about my naturally curly hair.
I wrote more poetry. I wrote short stories. Years passed. I had suitcases full of manuscripts and grandchildren on the way. My brown curly hair was turning silver, and my parents had passed. I wrote little ditties and kept them in an old exercise book.
The Moon-gazing Rabbit is the victim of someone else’s mistake. He’s invited to the wrong party and finds himself in the Arctic circle:
He gazed at the moon and he pondered the sky. He felt rather foolish and uttered a sigh. And then, in his loneliness, started to cry, for someone had got it wrong.
More years passed. Grandchildren nearly teenagers. My hair all silver with artistic streaks of whatever’s on special offer. More short stories. Three novels. A family saga. A psychological drama. Part one of a trilogy about a woman in a man’s world. Trobairitz, telling stories to find her place.
But I hadn’t realized there was a common thread, an element of estrangement going on in my writing.
Until. Two things.
One: I read someone else’s blog. Nan Bovington takes an hilarious look at the world of publishing. We should have been sisters. Sometimes strangers’ opinions resonate, don’t they? You feel you’ve missed something in your life because they haven’t been part of it. Nan made me laugh out loud with her irreverent pokes at publishing.
Two: I uploaded Not Rodgers and Hammerstein as my short story of the month and I read it again for the first time in, oooh, ages. Even in a romance, it seems, I write about people who don’t quite fit in. People who are looking for that special place where they might. It could be a physical location; it could be alongside another person; it might be something they have to sort out in their own head first.
They can’t always have happy endings. Life doesn’t always deliver them on cue. That’s why not all of my short stories will find their way into women’s magazines where at least an uplifting ending is hoped for.
I haven’t found the right agent or publisher yet for the things I write, but at least now I recognize the essence of what I’m writing. Am I getting there?
My moon-gazing rabbit had it all worked out years ago.
But wait, what is this? Now can it be so? Yes really, the truth is that no-one need know. He can sit on an iceberg and go with the floe, though someone has got it wrong.
I wish he’d told me then.