Some of the happiest days of my childhood were spent on preserved steam railways or wandering around museums devoted to England’s glorious industrial past. You know the kind, open air ‘working’ museums of old cottages, shops and mills, complete with horses and carts and steam engines. These cosy and romantic depictions of a bygone age pleased Father, and that meant neither I nor my mum got beaten.
Nevertheless, childhood had been a bit rough, and the end result was PTSD and a tendency to depression, both untractable. In time, I saw that my repeated recounting of my childhood in endless therapy sessions created a one-sided story, a story which cast me ever more deeply as a victim. It wasn’t helping.
I decided to have a go at recapturing my childhood memories with as little bias as possible. Writing them down as a story, trying to see all sides, as a story-teller should, gave me chance to consider events deeply but with some distance and objectivity. Having taken some of the heat from it all, I found I could speak to my siblings about their childhood memories. Many overlapped, of course, and so, one way or another, my memories became more rounded and more honest.
The picture which emerged was of a far happier childhood than my therapists would have had me believe. Day trips, picnics, holidays, favourite places, I saw that despite my father’s violent episodes, he had worked hard to to create as much happiness as he could.
I’d enjoyed the writing for its own sake, and found, once the childhood discovery project was finished, I didn’t want to stop. But the memory project had been compelling. As I explored writing in various forms, I missed that drive and the passion, that purpose.
The truth dawned on me. I needed to write with passion and curiosity. Simply trying to plot well and write elegantly was not enough. Writing, I saw, should be a voyage of discovery, both for the writer and for the reader.
In my case, I went back to those working museums which had so enthralled my father. I looked beyond the quaint cottage interiors with their ranges, copper kettles and gingham tablecloths. I looked beyond the polished steam engines and the lovable horses.
That rosy glow of the museums covers a grim reality. The great engineers believed they strove to bring technology to man’s benefit, to make life better. But they brought with it factories, mills, workers, bosses and capitalists, and a huge divide in wealth. They created poverty on a scale not known before. They created a financial system which relies on ever-growing economies and that has brought us climate destruction.
Here, I thought, is the perfect backdrop for writing rich stories. That contrast between the rosy glow and the reality. That thinking space: what drove those men then to do what they did? Where does it leave us? The subject aroused my curiosity and my passion.
I would, I decided, dive deeply into this morass of human endeavour and emotion while washing over it all the rosy, warm glow of love and innocence. Feel-good romances with a little bit more in them for those who care to look, to dig, to think. Or even a lot more.
I’m writing with passion and curiosity. I’m learning as I go, learning to write, of course, but learning about life, too. Isn’t that what writing should be about?
What curiosity do you harness into the power of your writing? What does writing achieve for you as well as your readers?