My granddaughter gave me a picture of a snail she had coloured in – I rather like the eyelashes! I wonder when she will start to write stories. I’ve never forgotten winning half a dozen eggs when I was nine years old. Bizarre prize perhaps but we thought we lived in the country and free range eggs were a novelty then. The competition was for writing a story and mine was about two girls who ran away from home. The original has disappeared over the years of moving from place to place and getting involved in the ordinary business of life but I still remember something of the plot. I had thought through the details of how I could get out of the house without being heard – avoiding the stairs that creaked and holding my breath as the front door lock clicked into place behind me. I wasn’t planning to go alone because I’d arranged to meet my friend. So I had company and we’d planned in great detail what we were going to eat. That seemed to be a quite central concern. We went to hide out in the woods which I obviously thought was an exciting and wonderful place to be. The pages were illustrated with a drawing of a picnic spread out on the ground under the trees on a sunny day and we slept under piles of leaves like babes in the wood. There was no fear in the story – no fear of the dark or the woods or the unknown. It all ended happily ever after with our parents sending out a search party to find us and take us back home before the food ran out. They weren’t angry – just pleased to find us. I can’t remember how I felt at the time but I do wonder if the process of writing helped to stop me from actually running away as a child. I used the creation of the story thirty years later when I had children myself and was feeling trapped. I rewrote it with myself as the child’s mother helping her to write the story while planning my own escape. The second version ended the same way with everything returning to normal and no one actually running away.
I feel sure that writing has always served the useful function of helping me to think through problems that were on my mind. That was certainly true with Molluscs and Me. I used to sit down every morning and write about the things that had happened the day before. Turning that stream of consciousness into a coherent book was the work that took seven years.