Island Life 

I visited the London Book Fair on Thursday. As you may have read in my bio I would like to be a children’s picture book author. I have so far written 2 books so in some respects I am an author, just currently completely unknown. The aim of the day was to just have a walk around as I hadn’t booked in early enough to take advantage of the agent 121’s. It is predominantly a trade fair and one that focuses on established authors however there are a few seminars and opportunities for us budding writers. 

I tried my best to have a little network but publishers and agents are a tough crowd. You approach and they give you a “Oh here comes another one” look. Their tone smacks of “So you think you can write?” and “Stop wasting my time”. They eye you up cautiously to establish your sanity. No different really from the crazies who go on the X Factor thinking they can sing. Reading badly written books by wanna be / shouldn’t be writers just wouldn’t get the prime time viewing figures. I admit I understand completely as I have come across a few crazies at writing events,  they definitely do exist. There are those that are wildly disillusioned and believe that their work is fantastic but equally there are some relatively unique individuals who are genuinely amazing writers. Writing is often a very solitary profession so in some cases it’s not surprising that a few social skills get compromised along the way in order for excellence to shine elsewhere. 

One seminar I attended on Thursday included a workshop demonstrating a writing prompt to eradicate the fear of the blank page. The task was to write down 10 words that you associated with coming home. Mentally I started thinking bath time, bed time, sit down and relax time but the idea was seeded to consider a childhood home.

I had a rather novel childhood home.  I grew up on an island down in Middlesex (does that even exist still as a county?). So novel in fact that we appeared on the Michael Aspel 6 O’clock Show back in the late 80’s as part of a feature on transport on the River Thames. The island was in the middle of the Thames and housed 42 bungalows, predominantly around an island green, which was home to an annual barn dance. Our garden backed onto the Thames, a large weeping willow the focal point of the back garden, trailing its leafy fingers into the river. The hurricane of 87 tried its best to take it down but it stood firm. 

My Mum didn’t drive so while you could walk off the island, for her it was more effective to get where we needed to go with a swift row (yes in a boat) across the river. She was crowned “Super Mum 1988” by the local rag for this unconventional and unique method of getting me to school. Much to my shame when I had to stand up in front of the whole school in assembly one week and explain why I was on the front page of said local paper. 

It was a great place to grow up, and would appear to be very idyllic, my row to school always a talking point throughout my early education. Dropping my folders in the river on the way in an original excuse to not hand in an essay. Coming home from school, getting to the river bank and realising some **** had stolen your rowing boat was a massive inconvenience. My childhood cat “Sugar” was a keen hunter and didn’t just serve up the usual mouse or bird as his morning offerings on the door mat. His culinary delights included fish, duck, rat, bat, mole and on a particularly slow week he even improvised leaving the gift of a Danish pastry on the mat.

As I got older the fact you had to walk on to the island and leave your car a 7/8 min walk from the house was increasingly irritating. The walk was poorly lit at night and walking through a couple of cob webs en route was standard. Checking that an 8 legged friend wasn’t coming home to stay for the night was a thorough through the door ritual. Being berated for drunk rowing became common place in my late teens. (The previous 8 legged friend was genuinely a spider not a drunken depiction of a teenage boyfriend.) The weekly shop had to be wheeled down the island path and to the house in a wheelbarrow. Delivered take away was something that I could only dream of. House parties had me on the edge as to whether a friend might accidentally walk into the river a tad intoxicated. On many an occasion revellers had a cold dip and had to be rescued, rowing boats were sunk and drunk rowing was ever more rife as I taxied people too and fro. 

In winter when it rained a lot, the island flooded and the river always seemed to come up just an inch higher than my wellies could accommodate. If it really flooded grubby Thames water would start coming up through the bath plug. Not quite so idyllic.  Nevertheless a great place to grow up but it leaves me with eternal gratitude that I can now more or less drive to my front door. 

So my 10 words / phrases that I associated with “coming home” went a little something like this: 

  • Island
  • Cobwebs 
  • Willow Tree 
  • River 
  • Weir 
  • Canoeing 
  • Wasps in the pear tree 
  • Garden path
  • Car at the lock
  • Rushing water

The task continued that these needed to be converted within 10 minutes into a poem. Not just any poem, a love poem. Well I don’t do mush and incorporating cobwebs, willow trees and wasps could be tricky. A nice little exercise though if you are a writer so give it a go. Here is my finished 10 minute poem and I must caveat that this is a work of pure fiction and I have not likened my husband to a cobweb or wasp. 

You are that coming home feeling, as I cross the weir, 

A comforting hand in the dark, who is always near.

A tranquil presence, a father to my daughter,

Familiar as the sound of rushing water.

Most of the time you make me laugh

But sometimes you are as annoying, as the wasps that plagued the garden path. 

Like a cobweb in the face, I’m suffocated by things you do,

But most days together are chilled, like a sunny afternoon canoe.

Like the impenetrable strength of the old willow tree,

I’m so grateful that you, are always there for me.

Thinking of steering clear of love poems indefinitely. 

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