At the age of eleven I’d already written a bunch of things. And I’d already decided by then I wanted to be a writer.
Because writing –- the act of thinking of stories and scrawling them out longhand or on my Dad’s laptop –- was the only time –- honestly, the only time – I felt satisfied.
See, I was a shy, nervous, introverted kid.
(As opposed to the push-you-over-if-you-get-in-my-way kinda guy I am now.)
Let’s not get into the why. Doesn’t really matter. Point is, I lacked confidence. Terrible at sports. Average academically. Abysmal at maths.
And my social skills?
But at some stage, when I was around eight, I guess, I discovered I could write.
And write pretty darn well.
Y’know — for an eight year old.
Not my own opinion, you understand. I had no idea. It was a judgement made by my teacher. One day he called me aside. He had my journal on his table and he said, “You’re pretty good at this.”
(Or something similar).
And my heart swelled.
Seriously, that feeling – –
– – I’m good at something?! – –
– – was amazing.
But as I said, I was a shy kid. And boasting about your writing doesn’t win you mates.
So life, as it does, carried on.
Until one weekend, when I sat down to write. And not because I had to. Not for plaudits from my teacher.
Because I’d realised I liked writing.
And so I wrote.
I wrote a lot.
Throwaway stuff: Short stories about heroes I read about in comics. Superman, the Phantom, Spider-Man; you name the hero, he or she guest-starred.
I lost myself in these fictional worlds. I loved the control I had. Destinies were mine to play with. Life, death. Love, betrayal. All mine.
(Wow – villainous, much? Cue psychotic laughter.)
But life, outside my imagination, carried on.
Outside: same old, same old.
But, maybe, getting worse.
My self-doubt grew.
Just a mental thing, I think. The wires in my brain weren’t letting me like myself. I didn’t talk to anyone about it. That would be causing a fuss. That would be making a scene.
Not my style.
It got to a stage where I believed my friends realised the same thing I’d always felt.
That I wasn’t any fun.
I was, in actuality, pretty shit. A waste of space.
Why’d they bother hanging with me when there were so many other cooler kids?
So, not wanting to talk with anyone about my feelings, I retreated to my fictional world.
Only this time, the fiction was sprinkled with a lot more fact.
I began typing.
I didn’t know what, at first. Not exactly.
But I knew it would be about me.
Not the real me, though.
No – – the person I wanted to be.
But why not take it further than that?
The person I wanted to be – – in an alternate reality.
Where I had powers!
Because, why not? This was my world. I was in control.
I typed the heading: ALIENS!
(Yes – with an exclamation mark, thanks).
Looking on it now, I understand.
It was shorthand for alienated.
ALIENS! was about a ten-year-old version of me. I lived on a farm with my parents – thanks, Ma and Ma Kent – but somehow attended the same school.
I also had the powers of Superman’s. Obviously.
Strength? Uh, duh.
Flight? You betcha.
Heat vision? Natch.
I was, I’ve since realized, writing a precursor to Smallville.
But this was real.
The characters in ALIENS! weren’t just based on my friends – they were my friends.
I just happened to add the extra spice of aliens, super-powers and a mysterious shaman named Shogo.
ALIENS! opens with Simon walking his dogs around the farm. The opening chapter – THE OLD FARM – ends with this:
“Simon’s best friend was [REDACTED]. He was also friends with [REDACTED] and [REDACTED]. Occasionally Simon would have troubles with them, but that was only on the bad days.”
Chapter Two begins. Simon’s at school. He’s playing a game called ‘Battle,’ but he’s alone. He reflects: “Simon kept on going into battle without his friend. He could do it, but he felt someone was missing.”
It’s not all doom and gloom though. I was a comedian, even then: “In class, Simon read a book called JOKES. ‘You call that a joke?’ thought Simon.”
Man, that’s great stuff.
But that darker side is never far behind. Page 28, Simon thinks: “I don’t know if I’ll ever be friends with [REDACTED] again. I think [REDACTED] is my best friend. But I don’t know.”
More telling is the next line: “Maybe I don’t have a best friend.”
ALIENS! is the inner turmoil of my eleven-year-old self.
It’s me, working out my issues, as only I could.
It took me three months to write those 105 pages.
(It’s not that I remember – the dates are on the first and last page.)
The tone shifts greatly throughout. I can point out the sections I wrote during which I was sad and depressed. There are whole chapters dedicated to Simon’s inner monologue as he debates his friendships.
Then, suddenly, the action takes over. Aliens attack and Simon intervenes. The prose becomes bombastic. Huge-font BOOMS! take over. That’s when I know I’m feeling good.
Eventually it is revealed Simon’s mates are being mind-controlled and that Simon was given his powers for a reason.
He has a destiny.
ALIENS! ends with our protagonist accepting this, and the line: “This,” Simon thought, “was gonna be fun!”
Our writing has the power to change lives.
Sometimes many. Sometimes very few.
Sometimes, just one. Yourself, if you’re lucky.
But no matter who you’re doing it for, know that it matters.