My Travels Through Time

I’m reading ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger.  It has been years since a book has touched me as much as this does; not just due to the story, but the complexity of the writing, the attention to detail and the many layers woven of characterisations and plot.  My ambition has always been someday to complete my novel, however nothing I write ever reaches my own standards and therefore is relegated to the ‘ideas’ pile, ever increasing from year to year. 


My disappointment in writing is common, as ‘fantastic novels’ rarely impress as much as I am promised.  ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Seobold is my most hated piece of work.  The idea of romanticising a small child’s rape and brutal murder into a dreamy heaven-like tale makes me physically ill.  At first I kept my opinions on this to myself, as those around me raved about its content and daring and I initially wondered how I’d managed to misinterpret the story.  But slowly, once the hype died down, more and more people began to admit that they found it disturbing, dissatisfying and, to not mince words, a bit sick.  Having seen the review of Seobold’s follow-up, which re-visits her own experience of rape, I can now sympathise with the way the novelist appears to be using her stories as a form of therapy, however refuse ever to put myself through the trauma of reading her work again.  The same is true of ‘The Life of Pi’, a novel I found to be entirely self-indulgent pap.  It was invented and executed purely to impress, its randomness too calculated and is set to appeal to the pretentious nation that unfortunately grows daily.  Such a shame I thought, as the references to religion at the start of the novel were clever and interesting, but it soon bored me in its desperate quirkiness and I struggled to finish it.


In these writers’ defence, however, at least they both are best-selling novelists, which is much more than can be said for myself so far.


These days I rarely give myself time to write, finding so many other distractions in life; the Internet, television, friends, chores, work.  Every day there is the nagging feeling that I am doing myself an injustice and wasting time not being true to myself by taking the time to write.  But why is writing a novel such an important ambition to me?  Why do I feel the need, when so many others are quite content to find other amusements and use other talents?


Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I’ll begin…


It all started, as stories tend to, when I was a small child.  The parental-unit spent year after year relocating with dad’s various jobs; thus my contrary and restless nature was borne from him.  As a result of the constant upheaval I have no childhood friends before the age of 8.  My brother is 3 years older therefore I was far too young to be of any use or fun (plus failed to develop a sense of humour until I was 13) and so was left pretty much to my own devices. In many ways I believe this was a blessing, as it has meant I am perfectly comfortable in my own company and enjoy spending time alone. 


My favourite day of the week was Saturday because it was the day when we’d visit the library and I’d get to pick as many books as was allowed on my ticket.  Every week I would get 8 and take back the 8 I’d finished from the week before.  For convenience I went to the same school my mum taught at, which was miles away in another town, therefore my school friends did not live locally.  This meant every spare minute of my time was spent in my room either inventing games or lying on my stomach on my bed, reading.  I even took my meals in my room in this fashion, when I could get away with it! 


In some ways my reading obsession wasn’t healthy or nice.  By age 6 I’d finished all the ‘reading bands’ as they called them at school, i.e. I’d read all the books available.  In absence of anything else to give me, my teacher would make me sit in the corner and listen to the other children read, which I disliked as I found it dull.  There were also the days when mum would ban me from reading, confiscating my books just as they were getting interesting.  I never did find out how one particular Nancy Drew story finished, although I’m sure she didn’t die or someone would surely have told me. Wouldn’t they?  My worst habit was to use words I’d only read before and not heard spoken, pronouncing them incorrectly and sounding like a precocious brat to anyone who would listen.


Where did this get me?  There is only so long you can love an art and appreciate it before you try to emulate it.  Thus I began to write.  Not being one to start small, I aimed straight for newspapers.  The teasing still follows me to this day of my ‘Saddle Club’ newsletter, written age 11 for my friends, including such ground-breaking stuff as ‘Grooming tool of the month’.  Ah the humiliation.  I followed this up with Editor of my high school newspaper, although very rarely actually was permitted to do any actual – editing.  This privilege was reserved for the Head of English teacher, Mrs Russell.  Instead she encouraged me to write for myself; stories, reviews and articles, with the opinion that someday I would do her proud and embark on a career in journalism, particularly in the form of entertainment, film and music, my lifelong interests and passion.  My parents recount having to back away warily from this formidable woman at parents evening when they broke the news to her that I was to study Zoology at Edinburgh.


Years later and I have managed to combine my loves, having now published a number of newsletter and scientific journal articles relating to animals and their welfare.  But what of my aspirations to become a novelist?


To read is to feel, to love, to empathise and to travel with the story.  All these are found within the pages of the Time Traveller’s Wife.  This novel has made me laugh, wince with pain, puzzle over timing complexities and eventually give way to feelings of such desperate sadness that I had to put the book aside for a short time, in order to return to the present.  Novels such as these remind me of why we exist; Niffenegger weaves music, science and literature into the story, using these to plant the characters in scenes to set a context of time, such as discussions of the onset of punk and the hurdle that ‘DNA won’t be sequenced until 2000-2001’. 


I believe that to begin a piece of writing with the ambition of masterpiece already dooms the writer to fail.  Instead writing must remain as it was originally intended; for pleasure, for expression, from experience and with heart.  I can only hope that along the way I come across more novels that spur me on to succeed as this one has as, to produce something that captivates the attention of the reader even a fraction as much as this book has done, will ensure this writer will finally be able to watch TV in peace.



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