Have you ever noticed that wherever you are, whatever school you go to or industry you work in ‘The Bullies’ are all the same?
The types of people who make life more difficult than it should be, may do different things to you (i.e. pinch you, punch you, kick you or call you names) because they all seem to know how to do what they do. But the thing is, The Bullies struggle with what they really want to be, and because they don’t know, they seem to have a dislike for anyone who does.
The first time The Bullies captured me was when I knew what I wanted to be. I was 14. The teacher, Mrs. Billingham, who wasn’t a bully but a cuddly woman with smiley blue eyes and soft blond hair, asked each of us in turn:
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
My young mind thought it an odd concept because I thought you do work when you grow up, not be it. As the lesson progressed, and after giving it some serious thought, I began to understand you did cooking if you wanted to be a chef and you did arrest people if you wanted to be a policeman. Understanding that, I supposed you also did writing (and a heck of a lot of reading) if you wanted to be an author.
I settled my internal argument that she was being the teacher and doing her stuff and, as the line of answers to her question quickly got nearer me I tried desperately to think, think, think!
What was the world outside school all about?
I didn’t have a clue. Back then, teenagers like me were very sheltered. At school, I would learn the lessons the way they wanted us to learn – by rote, repeating over and over again – so I wouldn’t be shouted at. At home, mum and dad always shouted at each other so, in an attempt to escape the tedium of school and the turmoil of home, I distanced myself from everyone. Added to this, there was no internet to connect with what was going on outside of my small space, and the world seemed so, well, other-worldly. So,
The only pleasure I dug out of life was buried in books.
People could always find me hiding in some corner of the playground, alone. My mind and emotions were submerged deeply within a book’s crisp pages. Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty was a particular favourite and I still have that original Dean & Son hardback in my bookcase. It’s a bit battered and I had scrawled on it, listing a host of pets I’d had and places I’d lived but, tatty though it is, that book a little bit of personal history I cherish.
When my turn finally came to announce my future trade, I desperately imagined the process of how that book was produced and blurted out:
“I want to be a writer!”
“We have a budding author among us!” Mrs. Billingham pronounced in her broad Lancashire accent.
A budding author?
My! That sounded grand! Especially for a girl like me. I hadn’t thought of it like that. Such a thrill coursed through my veins. I was on cloud nine, but, of course, that sensation soon crashed to the ground when The Bullies wouldn’t let me be me and did what they do best.
The Bullies taunted me with words. Words they didn’t quite understand.
“What you?” they sneered, “You waaaay too stoo-ped! Why you wear short skirts and flat shoes? You stoo-ped or somat?” Unfortunately for me, the opposite (long skirts and high heels) were in fashion at the time. Added to which, my body was growing rapidly, in spurts, while my clothes stayed the same size. Which was highly unfair.
The thing was, though my dad had his own company and worked all hours on top of roofs laying hot bitumen and carrying heavy felt rolls up long ladders, he wasn’t very rich. Of course, it didn’t help that he gambled on the horses, smoked sixty Seniors a day and drank six pints of beer in his lunch hour, too. It also didn’t help that we were carted off to our grandparents every weekend while he tried to save his marriage to mum.
So, by dint of circumstance, there was never enough money in the pot to buy three kids new school uniforms every term. But I couldn’t tell The Bullies that. Their attention span wasn’t long enough to hang around for that lengthy explanation.
You see, I knew how hard dad worked. Somehow, I could feel his suffering. For us. For me. But however much money he didn’t have, he always found a few pennies to buy me a book. So I thought, if dad could suffer the way he did and still do all he could for his kids, it gave me the courage to defend myself.
I raised my eyes from the pages of a Jane Austen novel and stared at The Bullies.
“I wear them because I like them,” I stated firmly, slowly, just so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself. Then, for good measure, I added, “Besides, they’ll be in fashion again next year.”
I steeled myself for the onslaught. I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for what was to be done with me.
Unlike a dear friend of mine, who they tied to a tree and left for some Good Samaritan (me) to release her, they didn’t do a thing.
They screwed their eyes and hesitated.
They were actually perplexed by my response. They were so used to kids shying away and cowering from the dark menace that buzzed around them, they felt unable to do anything. So they did what they could to save face and walked away.
That’s when I began to realise what The Bullies were made of.
It was kind of like that sentence in the Bible, where it says something like the ‘scales fall from your eyes’. Can’t remember where, or the exact turn of phrase, but it felt like that. The Bullies were unable, for whatever reason, to do stuff of any significance so they decided to be horrid to people who were able to.
To me, at the time, being a bully seemed a kind of automatic defence mechanism that made them taunt others to take the pressure off themselves. They seemed jealous, so they stole from those who had what they thought they couldn’t have. There were a million other emotions they seemed to express that the essence of human nature began to dawn on me.
Instead of hating them, or fearing them, I pitied them. They remained stuck in worlds of their own making. It seemed their warped way of protecting themselves from the fear they felt.
From that moment, I began to read the ‘pop’ psychology books (the term ‘pop’ appears derogatory, but simply means ‘popular’). Nancy Friday’s My Mother, Myself helped me to understand the relationship between my own mother and me. They helped me develop a sense of the emotional turmoil and utter abandonment I felt because of her absence. And, it was Dr Arthur Janov’s book, The Primal Scream that helped me understand those who displayed serious behavioural problems. I’ve since learned from a hundred and one plus psychology books I’ve read along my path towards enlightenment (!) that;
To find real peace, you have to let the armour go.
Also, oddly, reading Black Beauty helped me to understand the nature of people too. While it seemed a simple story to my young mind, over the years that have since passed, I’ve learned to use it as a metaphor for my life. The hurdles I’ve faced could be likened to Black Beauty’s challenges. Just as in Black Beauty’s life, there are good and bad people and circumstances that cross your path. Each has their influence. Each presents you with a challenge. But someone said something to me that I will never forget:
It’s not the challenge, but the way you handle the challenge that makes you the person you are.
In the story of Black Beauty there was a horse called Ginger and in Ginger I saw a confused, angry animal who suffered terribly. He met with such a sad end I bawled my eyes out for days. My mind began to align the story with a metaphorical message, and it was Ginger’s experience that made my heart ache for The Bullies.
Anna Sewell taught an effective and lasting lesson through the only book she ever wrote.
With the brilliant use of metaphor, she showed how kindness, sympathy and respect are things you do to others and yourself, so that you can be the best you can be.
I read many hundreds of books since that one. From books, I learned:
- By doing the reading, you can learn how writers hone their craft
- By being the person you are, you can create anything you want
Regardless of the amount of dissent and dissuasion you experience on your journey through this short expanse of time, you need to learn to be yourself so you can do your best for the world around you.
Take courage, put pen to paper and don’t worry about what people think. Just do the writing and be the author you want to be.
All the best,
EXTRACT from: How to be an Author – Vol.1: Writing Your Writing