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Origin Story

I have few strong memories of childhood. When I was training to become a teacher, I was told to gain inspiration from the teachers who inspired you as a child. If I'm honest, I only remember a small number of teachers before I was sixteen.


Miss Starkiss was my first teacher at Guillemont Primary School, which must have been in Farnborough, Hampshire, I suppose. She had a blonde bubble perm, seemed to be uniformed in a much-loved, red, woollen jumper, and my memories are less of her teaching abilities, as you might understand considering we were probably only learning to identify letters and finger paint. I distinctly recall being given little bottles of milk, as all children of the early Eighties experienced, before they were 'snatched' by the Conservative government. Perhaps that daily calcium boost explains why I've never broken a bone (touch wood).


Mr. Oram was my final primary school teacher at Copp Church of England School near Great Ecclestone, Lancashire. Abiding memories are of a strict, gruff man who seemed old for a teacher. He had expressive, wild, grey eyebrows and thick-rimmed, square, black glasses. School days always featured a mental arithmetic test and a spelling test but, aside from those, my only recollections are getting in huge trouble for karate chopping another student and another teacher wheeling in an old CRT TV on a metal trolley with a huge VCR player so we could watch 'The Rescuers'.


It took until I became an older teenager, when I sort of acquired consciousness, for me to identify teachers as individuals who I could actively learn from rather than simply exist unconsciously within their orbit and absorb information and ideas inactively.


Even then, only two names come to mind - the late Mr. Rosevear, who taught Australian Studies, and was a kind, humourous charicature like Mr. Magoo meets Richie Benaud; and Mr. Wolf, who seemed in my mind's eye to resemble Kennedy (actor Alan Fletcher) from 'Neighbours' who taught Physics and was the much put upon Tutor for Fraser House.


I mention all of this because it is hard to pinpoint precisely where it is that I was given the inspiration or even idea of writing as a calling. Not just something that is fun to do or a nice hobby but something I know, without any hesitation, that I am destined to do and something which I believe gives my life purpose. It's a strange thing to write this, however, as it's not a question I have been asked so it's more of a confession.


Michael Baskhar argues, in his book, 'Human Frontiers: The Future of Big Ideas in an Age of Small Thinking', that there are three stages - Conception, Execution, Purchase. Even big ideas take months or years to develop fully. Building a proof of concept or writing those big ideas can take just as long. The public (or, in my example, yourself) can take time to buy into the idea.


That Conception phase must have evolved in my formative years, knowing what I now know about teaching. If SATs in Year 7 (10-11 years-old), GCSEs in Year 10 and 11 (14-16 years-old), are focused on exams, as we're Year 11 and 12 in Australia for my SACEs (16-18 years-old), that removes five from twelve and a half years of education, leaving about seven. Rule out Years 1 and 2, when I could neither spell not write, probably, and that's five years. Year 3 to 6 of Primary or 8 to 9 of Secondary. I'm not 100% sure but I think that would mean between the ages of six and nine or twelve and thirteen was a period of time - as opposed to one significant moment, which should be more notable - when the seed of my ambition was planted.


That seed did not blossom until just before I left Australia, when I was convinced I would become a journalist. That was a false bloom as I realised that covering the news as a reporter was not for me. But that seed was for a perennial, a bulb that hibernated for seasons, before sprouting for a while and then receding once again. The last period of inertia started with the loss of years of patchwork efforts at writing throughout the years since the 1990s.


That dormancy though is now over. It took me 12-18 months to finish my first novel, 'This Bloody Country', and I've been regularly writing ever since. I'm excited by the projects I'm working on despite feeling, often, that I'm shouting into the void with social media posts and blog posts. Yet, this is how I know that my Conception phase is over and the Execution, the second act, is beginning. We're at the 'Rising Action' phase when the protagonist goes through the running through the snow, punching the side of beef, training montage!


Individual projects will have different timescales for their CEP stages; I have a few ideas that are gestating and others are ready to be hatched, but the time they have taken to reach that point is not always the same.


The takeaway message is that we don't always have some 'Eureka' moment which defines us; we are far too complex individuals for that to be true. Perhaps there's a tipping point, or inflection point, when something slots into place. But I'm open to the idea that it is more likely that we experience gradual evolution which we don't recognise in ourselves until we are sure of some component part of ourselves which we can identify as having been there seemingly forever.

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