As a child I was once commended for an essay based on Greek Mythology I’d written in green ink for a school competition. I was called to the Headmaster’s office and given a gold star and a vote of encouragement from the kindly Mr Thomas. As I was more interested in drawing I logged the experience in my mind as a skill fallback that might be developed if I ever needed it. There has always been a nagging doubt that it might have only stood out because of the green ink.
I began writing as an adult when my sons were playing junior rugby every weekend for our local team, Dunvant RFC. They needed someone to provide match reports for the club website to keep the parents engaged and to give the boys an added incentive to have their exploits recorded by being ‘mentioned in dispatches’.
I quickly found that I loved it. I have always liked to play with words and have always been an eager reader ( I could have said ‘avid’ there, but that seemed too obvious…).
I’ve also been a lifelong sports fan (rugby and cricket in particular) and regularly read the sports sections of the Independent or the Guardian for the quality of the writing. I was a big admirer of Harry Pearson, Vic Marks and Andy Bull and also enjoyed Russell Brand’s football related prose, if not the game itself. In fact, one of Brand’s columns on the beauty of the game is still one of my favourite pieces of sports journalism.
When I began covering my sons’ rugby matches I realised that the hardest part of the gig was trying to remember everything that had happened, enacted by whom and in what order. I developed a method of pitchside note taking on my phone that served purpose and helped me remember the crucial details. Then it became an exercise in cliché avoidance written around the bare facts. It was also important to mention every member of the team (including subs) at least once in the piece and to get the score right and attributed to the correct players.
These constraints resulted in slightly long winded, rather turgid essays that I suspected people would only trawl through to make sure I’d given their little sportsman a namecheck. So I started to inject a little humour, take the piss out of a couple of the sturdier dads and to introduce a little bathos wherever appropriate. I started to get some positive feedback from the parents and after a couple of weeks they would be making suggestions as I watched the match, Ooh! crunching tackle there — you could put that in the report! What a try! did you see who scored? “Dived over like an eagle!”, like it? Hmm.
It became a bit of a chore to be doing it every week but I enjoyed it most of the time, although I often had to read the reports to remember what had gone on as I’d been too busy keeping notes to concentrate! Overall it dawned on me that this was another outlet for my creativity that was a lot less hassle than my other pastime of drawing people in the nude (them, not me).
I can’t remember now what prompted me to write about my Father but a few years ago I began to set down a garbled history of his working life as I remembered it. The words flowed. I barely had to think about it, just set down memories that had been bubbling away for the twenty-odd years since he’d died. I discovered that what I had written finally helped me come to terms with his loss and somehow made him a tangible figure again.
Although writing the piece had been a selfish act I was encouraged by the response it got from the few people I showed it to. I began to write whenever the urge arose and time was available. The urge became more frequent the more I did it and I soon had a folio of work I was relatively proud of.
I’d originally written my pieces on Blogspot but was never entirely happy with the formatting, or options for publication. As a graphic designer these things matter to me, so when I eventually chanced upon Medium, with its clarity and simple presentation, my urges found a new lease of life. I started writing a collection of stories from childhood.
I marvelled at the way memories gathered around the words I set down. A vague recollection triggered other, more detailed memories that had been buried in wait for a catalytic beam of light like a torch sweeping a dusty attic. The flow of memories brought a flotsam of words, controlled only by the limited time available to net them, and put them to dry.
A couple of years ago I began attending a Life Writing class. The class is run by a gentle, generous lady who teases our stories out with a variety of well chosen prompts and examples of the genre. Each week the small class has the opportunity to read what they’ve written since the previous session. I found this, in particular, to be an enriching exercise, both for the opportunity to be heard and receive feedback, and also to hear some excellent stories from a surprisingly wide field.
The prompts given have taken my writing in directions that I wouldn’t have thought of interest to me initially. We have been asked to develop our voice with exercises in writing dialogue, travel writing and even trying our hands at poetry. It’s been a cathartic and enjoyable experience that has broadened my approach and given me more confidence in setting out my stories.
The weekly hour and a half journeys up and back from my home in Swansea have become a cherished period for reflection. I find myself composing my next piece as I drive through the beautiful surroundings of the Vale of Neath and the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is beautiful in any weather but often breathtaking when the light is right. The ancient, dramatic landscape nurtures thoughts as surely as its deep, fertile valleys have promoted life in the area for centuries. The windswept, exposed hillsides clear the head of cobwebs and provide a perspective that helps you see deep into the past and future, when it isn’t raining.
I’m not sure what the future holds for my writing, other than the certainty that, as long as I am able, I will continue, in what form and to what end I don’t know. I suspect that when I find out why I write, it may be the end of it, the mysteries solved, the itch, scratched.