This post is inspired by a couple of recent occurrences. Firstly, by the novel Six Pounds Eight Ounces, written by Rhian Elizabeth. In the first chapter, her character Hannah King details her first youthful forays into writing, and the teacher, then, who doesn’t believe the work is really by the girl. Which sounds familiar to many (now-writers) I am sure… Secondly, myself and poet Johnny Giles recently ran our first creative writing group for the really quite brilliant Recovery Cymru at their centre in Cardiff. The topic we wrote about, given by Johnny, was ‘the moment I knew’. While some of those attending chose to write about recovery, others, such as myself, did not. Here is the piece that I actually wrote….
I was thirteen years old, and it was prize-giving day. The stained glass windows of my prestigious all girls’ high school made the hall seem greater than it was, at the time. Since then, I have been back, and things inevitably seem less grand, so much smaller, than I had thought. But, at the time, the hall was like a church to me. Paintings of scenes from Shakespeare lined the walls, and the teachers, like a murder of crows in their long black gowns, were perched in rows on the stage ahead of us.
I felt hot and sweaty, my grey uniform itching me. My thighs were stuck together as I sat cross-legged on the floor. But I was excited. I had come top of the year in English Language i.e. creative writing, and top of my class in English Literature. I had achieved an almost impossible 90%. I knew that, this year, I was going to be awarded the prize for English. I was ready to leap up and clamber onto the stage where the crows would welcome me in and my fellow school mates would applaud all my hard work and, it seemed, tiny titch of talent.
We came to the English Prize. Miss Turner explained that the award – a bit of metal glued onto a piece of wood – was for the girl in our year who had made the most progress in English. I knew that this was me. The year previous to this, I had been floundering around, thinking I might be an artist when I grew up, but now I knew I was going to be a writer. And, I was good at it, my exam results and consistent As in my homework proved that. I got ready to jump up, thighs un-sticking with a squelch, toes flexing themselves in readiness.
And then it came:
“Gemma Davies is this year’s winner.”
My heart actually broke inside my chest. I could feel it weeping, a wound; or an internal eye shedding tears. Gemma Davies had NOT got the highest marks this year! I had. But, Gemma Davies had won nearly every other prize… I could hardly believe it. But, in that brief moment I realised that Gemma, lovely Gemma, lovely middle-class Gemma, was the face that fitted this kind of occasion, even though, technically, she wasn’t the one supposed to be up there. I saw her saunter onto the stage to collect her prize. Her long blonde hair flowed gracefully out behind her like a queen’s cloak.
My short, dark, badly-cut bob was never going to win over that. I was chubby, and sweaty, and nervous, and shy. My Cardiff accent still spoked my sentences; my shoes were not as shiny as the other girls’. I knew I couldn’t compete. My heart was melting into pieces inside me. But then an anger burned up from my stomach, and turned those tears into bullets. I wanted to murder that murder of crows. I wanted to drag Gemma Davies by her My Little Pony pony tail and throw her off the stage. I hated that girl, and I hated the teachers, and I hated the world, and it just wasn’t fair.
And that was the moment, age 13, that I knew, that I was never going to fit in with these people. And that was the moment when, in one swift second, I not only saw red but became red, and that chubby teenage me turned into an indignant, sullen, anger-fuelled Socialist.