There is a fish. He doesn’t have a name because he is a fish. He is a particular type of fish and looks exactly like all the other fish with his particularity. He is smaller than some yet larger than others. Size is the only thing that differentiates him, apart from gender. He is a male fish and as such this is the only other thing that differentiates him from all the other fish of his particularity that look like him but are, in fact her-fish. He spends his life behaving like a fish living in the sea. Feeding, moving in a shoal from location to location, procreating and trying not to get eaten by different types of bigger fish. This should be the end of a very boring story. But I will push through and you will stay with me to see where this is going.
First I will tell you about when I was 6. From this age I was obsessed with writing a book. I would staple together folded paper into a book lookalike and crayon a picture on the front cover. It was always a picture of a horse, behind it a classic 5-bar gate and behind that the field where it lived – and behind that a house where the little girl in the story (usually a blonde version of me) lived. I enjoyed the process thus far. Then I would turn the front cover to the blank first page and begin to write in my neatest writing (which was never neat enough).
‘Once upon a time….’ The story was always the same and involved the pony’s little girl coming out of her house, walking across the field and riding the pony out of the gate away from their home and off on adventure. There the story stopped. There was no adventure past the gate, the field and the house. There was no conspiratorial conversation between the girl and her much loved pony, there were no other characters met along the way, though I think maybe once the little girl had an argument with her mother before riding the pony out of the gate. I remember that as I was writing these stories I was filled with a sense of longing, with both eyes firmly fixed on a horizon I couldn’t see. The desire to fill the distance between where I was and said horizon became the one lasting outcome to every story. A lusty dollop of desire sprinkled with disappointment, unfulfilment, failure. I would put away the story to nowhere, hoping that next time I looked at it, there would be a shining tale of excitement and beauty upon its pages but sadly, sooner rather than later, I would sneak back hoping I didn’t notice and scrumple it up to bury it in the bin where I wouldn’t find it. I gave myself up to the world of ‘The Faraway Tree’, a place of the real imagination of the redoubtable Enid Blyton who I later discovered with shock was a rather horrid, cruel woman.
I was, by the way, the world’s worst horsewoman. I had a fat, wicked Welsh Mountain cross Arab midget of a pony. By the time I was done with her I practically rode her like a trike, my feet pretty much touching the ground on either side of her huge girth. She was as difficult to command to ride away from the food source in her paddock as she was to stop from charging at breakneck speed on the return journey. She terrified and bullied me. She thwarted my innocent girlish dream of the beautiful bond of love between pony and proud owner, the one that I read about it many books. ‘Green grass of Wyoming’. Bullshit. ‘My friend Flicka’. Bollocks.
The crushing experience of our one and only Gymkhana is it’s own story for another wettest day EVER.
Pushing through – the sea is a metaphor for the unfathomable, murky and ceaselessly swirling environment of my brain. The fish is the story that I held for just a moment before it slipped out of my fingers and when I looked for it in the ocean of my brain I always picked another one indistinguishable from the first and – oh there it goes – it slipped away again. Repeat.
Forging ahead – even if I had managed to hold on to it I would not have seen the adventure in the life of a fish among fish in a never ceasing ocean. I was too young to dive in and swim with it to find out what adventures were to be had in the depths. And anyway, I was looking on dry land – at ponies – and too proud to tell of my real adventures with my real pony, which were all humiliating and cause for humour. I was too young to appreciate this and too proud to laugh at myself.
And now? Now I know that if you want to write a story, you just have to keep starting. Keep going. Follow your own footsteps. It’s not the horizon that is important, it’s what’s beneath your feet. Failure, disappointment and unfulfillment are the lakes, mountains and valleys of stories. I can write that medium sized particular fish a rip-snorter of a tale – and nobody, not ANYBODY would talk like Ellen de Generes. Because when you inhabit an ocean, who’s gonna hear you talking? And I will never, EVER try to write a story about a pony. Unless it’s a magical sea pony that falls in love with a particular fish. Everything is stacked against them as they battle barriers of discrimination, evil stepmothers and jealous rivals…….