For many years I have felt uncomfortable in my surroundings, not like I was a complete outsider but just that I didn’t quite fit in with every one else. At best, I felt mediocre – not a bright spark but not a complete loser either. Writing is, and always has been, my release and this is why.
Unlike the other girls at school, I wasn’t into sport, horses or fashion. I liked computer games. I became fascinated with this amazing new thing that my dad had told me was called The Internet. My first experience was writing on a GP message board (Dad was a doctor) and getting a message back several days later from a boy of my age, the son of a doctor in Colchester. Can you imagine?! Despite my incredible technological discovery, I didn’t tell a single friend about it. Rather than using this opportunity to be the pioneer of a brave new world, I choose to keep quiet. I’m not really sure why, maybe because none of the other girls were into computers and I feared this would cement my ‘outsider’ role even more.
As an adult I realise how ridiculous this sounds. Maybe it was a sign of the times, maybe family influences or maybe it’s because, for many women like me (and undoubtably many men), we are taught not to rock the boat. Stick to the status quo. Smile sweetly. Don’t put yourself out there.
The one thing I did know for certain was that I adored writing stories. At first, in little paper books held together by staples that I would illustrate and later, saved to my very own floppy disk that Dad gave me. I would share some of my more poetic writing with Grandpa; sending him my latest verses in the post and waiting for his critique in return. But I NEVER shared my writing with anyone else.
When I was 12 I joined the BBC Newsround’s Press Pack; a club for wannabe journalists. Each month there was an assignment and ordinarily I would write it, and then throw it away, telling myself that there was no point sending it because it was probably not good enough anyway. But then, this one month, I wrote something I was really proud of. I had shared it with my parents and they had given me positives words of encouragement. It’s probably worth mentioning here that all of my family are medical, so this whole creative writing thing was a tad alien to them! Anyway, back to the story. My article was a book review of An Evil Cradling – a powerful, heartfelt recount of the brutal kidnapping and imprisonment of Brian Keenan in Beirut by fundamentalist Shi’ite militiamen. I wrote more sincerely then I ever had done, probably even more than I knew I was capable of the time, comparing his feelings of being trapped in those awful conditions with what I was feeling as a young teenager growing up in the 90s. It was the first time I had written about myself; my true feelings and, looking back, it was the beginning of me finding my own voice, although I didn’t know it then. (On reflection, this was totally self-indulgent – I am now more than aware of the privilege I was afforded as a middle class child, daughter of a GP, growing up in rural Oxfordshire but at the time, for some reason, I felt I really identified with Brian… how totally pretentious of me..sorry Brian!)
So I plucked up the courage, stuck a stamp on the envelope and walked proudly through the village to the post box. Three weeks later I received a call from a researcher at the BBC. My article had been shortlisted and would I like to come into the studio to read it from the news desk to a judging panel? I remember that moment vividly, sat on the beige carpet of my parent’s bedroom, using the equally beige phone on my Dad’s bedside table (well, it was the early 90s!). For the first time, I felt that I had done something truly great – not ok, not mediocre but something so good that someone else thought it was good too. I ran downstairs, tripping over the two dogs that, no matter where in the house you were, always seemed to be lying right in your way. “Mum! Dad! That was the BBC! My writing has been shortlisted and they want me to come to London on August 13th!” Their faces dropped suddenly and Dad spoke softly to me. “But that’s when we are on holiday Hilary.” And there it was. That crushing moment where my future as a journalist had been cruelly snatched away from me. I might as well give up now, I thought, tears stinging hard in my eyes before cascading dramatically down my face. That was my chance and I blew up. How stupid of me to think I could actually be someone of importance ( I really did think being a Press Packer was quite possibly the coolest thing I could have been at the time!)
Luckily, I soon recovered and returned to my writing and love of journalism, attending many courses over the years and submitting more and more work, culminating in a much coveted degree place at City University studying Journalism and Social Sciences. Less than a year later, I quit, choosing instead to work my way up the ladder, starting at a local free paper run by a misogynistic overweight ex-Sun journalist who, in my opinion, clearly lacked in the pant department…but that’s a whole other story. I never did make it as a journalist but instead fell into a career in marketing and before I knew it, I was being paid to write. And guess what, I was pretty good at it. From brochures and mediocre websites to honing my craft developing value propositions for major IT and Telco brands including Vodafone and BT, I was writing every single day. Ok – not the most earth shattering work but the point is, I was doing what I loved as a child. And now, with 22 stories, I am finally at a point where I am writing for me – my words, my voice, my story. And I am using this experience to help others. Writing enables me to be free, to share my inner thoughts, my fears, my dreams. It helps me open up in a way I have struggled to do in past relationships and I now believe passionately in the power of words helping others feel they are not alone in their feelings. This is what stories can do and this is why I write.
P.S here is a little the secret – you don’t have to be a writer to tell stories. We are all doing it already, in our Facebook and Instagram posts, our WhatsApp messages, our late night gossip with friends over a bottle or two of wine and the crazy conversations we have with our children. Yet often, when it comes to talking about our businesses, we freeze up and tell ourselves we can’t write. Listen. IT. IS. NO. DIFFERENT. Next time you need to write something, give yourself permission to be totally free and write whatever is on your mind. Own your words and don’t try to over edit. Read it out loud and take the time to sense how it sounds. You might never do anything with it (and that’s ok) but just remember how it feels to hear something that is your true voice. It’s really quite empowering x