I tell this story every year, but that’s because it’s important to me. It’s my origin story: my superhero origin story. It’s a turning point in my life, a formative influence that made me who I am. So what if you’ve heard it half a dozen times before?
Today is the seventh of November. Five years ago today, I sat down at my desk, watching the fireworks from my window, and started writing my first novel — that is to say, the first novel I ever finished. It was a Saturday, and I had just embarked on NaNoWriMo for the first time.
Today, I’m sitting at a different desk in a different room. I can’t quite see the fireworks — the tall hedge outside my window blocks my view, though I occasionally catch a glimpse of the biggest ones, and I can hear them all right. I have my current writing project open in Microsoft Word, and I’m procrastinating on actually working on it. It’s a second draft of what I think is the fifteenth complete novel I’ve written, although it’s easy to lose count.
I am not the person I was five years ago. But I mirror her, imitate her, reflect her. No matter how many times I reinvent myself, cutting my hair and changing my wardrobe and making new friends, there is still something inside me that’s the same as the girl who sat down five years ago to write a terrible novel, a gateway novel to five years of creativity.
I’ve been thinking a lot about change recently. It underpins everything I’m experiencing in these first few weeks at university: I’m living in a new room in a new building in a new city, eating different food and spending time with different people and wandering different streets. Everything is alien and unfamiliar, and sometimes I even miss the dull high street of the town where I grew up, because it’s familiar. I don’t cope so well with change. I’ve lived in the same room since I was twelve; the same house since I was a baby.
But here I am, and everything is different, and some things are still the same.
Because I’ve been focusing on change, and on figuring out who I am — a crucial part of making new friends, really, because you need to know who it is you’re introducing to them — I forget to look at what hasn’t changed. I forget about the passions that have been the same for years, and how many of my thoughts are the same ideas that thirteen-year-old me might have considered. I forget that my writing is the main thing which ties me back to my younger self.
Let’s face it, I’m not very like her. My ideology, my self-expression and identity, my worldview … all of that has changed entirely as a result of the things I’ve experienced in the five years that have passed. Which is normal. That’s what growing up is about, really. And I spend a lot of time not being particularly keen on my younger self, but I owe her a lot.
Five years ago she sat down and wrote a novel in fifteen days without which I don’t know if I’d have been the same person.
Because once I figured out I could do it, I did it again. And again, and again. Spreadsheets of wordcount totals and yearly goals and NaNoWriMo and its Camp offshoots and first drafts, redrafts, trilogies and series. St Mallory’s Forever! and indie publishing and poetry and self-publishing and poetry competitions and becoming somebody with business cards to hand out to people who asked where they could find my work. In a week’s time I’m performing at a poetry open mic, and I’m terrified.
Would the me of five years ago have done that?
Maybe. She was fearless in the way of the inexperienced, with no expectations for her first novel other than that she wanted to finish it, and she did. She never thought it was any good, she wasn’t fooled into believing she’d written something worthwhile, but it was so important. The most important novel I’ve ever written, because it was the first.
2009 seems like an immensely long time ago. The friends I had then are mostly people I rarely speak to these days; the friends I’ve made since have come from a thousand different places. Five years ago I joined Protagonize and met some of my closest writing buddies, but some of the beta readers I depend upon these days didn’t enter my life for several years more. Five years ago I took up Irish dance; since then I’ve switched to ballet, quit Irish, and resumed it again. Five years ago I was a different person.
But even if I had no idea what I was building, and would frankly have been somewhat intimidated by my current self, I was laying the foundations for the person I’ve become.
Things change. This is a different desk, and I’m sitting at a different laptop. Different music is playing — the window in front of me is different — I look out over a path and a hedge rather than a garden — the road beyond that leads to the centre of a different city — the novel I have open in a document is vastly different —
and I am a different person.
But not entirely. Not always. Not on days like today when the ghost of my 2009 self is leaning against me, breathing in the scent of my hair, her strong uninjured fingers resting over mine on an ergonomic keyboard entirely unfamiliar to her.
Not on days when I remember her.