Twenty five years ago I was obsessed with books. I would actually hide under my bedding with a torch and read for hours and hours until I couldn’t stay awake any longer… Then I would dream about vivid other worlds, fascinating characters and extraordinary events. My teachers criticised me for daydreaming when I should have been concentrating on finding x but, in my opinion, x belonged on a treasure map and I couldn’t get that dream about flying over the snow-covered Welsh valley where I grew up out of my head. I was accused of having an ‘over-active imagination’, but I didn’t understand how an imagination could be ‘over-active’ because having an active imagination was a good thing, so how could it be too active?
Twenty five years later I have two daughters. The eldest will soon turn 4 years old and she has inherited my love of books in a big way. Every day she buries me in a stack of her favourite stories and demands that I read each and every one of them to her several times…and then ‘just one more time’ after that. I happily oblige and each day and, in return, I see her imagination grow and become more and more beautiful; it is a huge part of her personality and it puts the spark in her eyes. When she first asked me to play role-playing games with her I couldn’t help but dust off my own childish imagination after years of adulthood dulling it and I began to use it to look at my surroundings with different eyes. We build dens in the back garden and on the sofa to hide from the crocodiles, the top of her slide is a castle and she can be anyone or anything with just a cardboard hat and a piece of colourful fabric. The imagination of a nearly-four year old is a wonderful thing and the greatest inspiration of all.
Recently I discovered how much I love to write down the thoughts in my imagination and I have renewed my enthusiasm for daydreaming. When I am out and about I now scrutinise detail in the world around me; I listen to overheard conversations, I let my mind wander without reigning it in. Sometimes we only see the familiar; the obvious and, when I started to notice everything else, ideas for stories began to enter my head like apples falling from a tree.
Characters are all around me…the brood of gossips in the coffee shop, the rude passengers on a long-haul flight, the student buying a Lordship title in WHSmiths. The weather can make a landscape look dark and foreboding or muted and magical. Ordinary sounds become other-worldly when they are distorted by the wind or when they echo through a tunnel. Light and mysterious shadows are everywhere and just walking past the bread section in the supermarket can transport me to a bustling farmer’s market in the south of France.
A couple of months ago an idea for a really good story came along and slapped me in the face. The inspiration for this story was sparked by a particularly violent thunderstorm which passed over my home at the start of the summer… As the storm approached, the sky morphed into a swirling, dark ocean with huge waves of cloud and ominous thunder rumbled deeply in the distance…my home suddenly felt like it belonged in a post-apocalyptic, ravaged land at the mercy of nature. I felt inspired and my imagination went into overdrive.
I started to write whatever came into my head and, when I stopped to read back the ideas I had splurged onto the page, found I had automatically written in a style which would suit 10-15 year olds…the same age that I was when I fell in love with The Chronicles of Narnia, Adrian Mole and his hilarious diary, The Secret Garden and Lord of the Flies. Maybe, subconsciously, I have noticed how engaged in reading the students are at the secondary school where I work and how they remind me of my teenage self enjoying the freedom of exploring other worlds and other people’s lives through the pleasure of a good book. Perhaps, one day, my daughters and their friends might choose to hide under their duvets, torch in hand and stay up late reading chapter after chapter after chapter of my imaginings. Who knows, perhaps I might even be lucky enough to win the Big Idea competition with this explanation of my story-telling inspiration. Stranger things have happened.