Words Love Them Hate Them by Meg Kemp

It stops now: the shame, the hiding. I am a person who writes.

The shelves seem to go up forever. I look up with both delight and fear at the wall of books. The floorboards creak alarmingly and the gaps between them seem cavernous. There is a musty but chocolatey smell of foxed paper, dust moats float around.

Standing in the reading room with Grandad … is one of my earliest memories.

Life at Nan and Grandads was full of anecdotes and reminiscing.

How she met my granddad; dropping her glove on purpose so he’d retrieve it for her.

How Mrs Baily next door lost her brother overboard during the Second World War.

The holidays they spent in London, visiting the Victory Club on the Mall.

We would go through her jewellery box; there were lucky rabbit’s feet!  Jet broaches and strings of fake pearls a story went with every item.

Sitting on the bus damp and steaming we would eaves drop on the sagas of others.

I was constantly transported to other realms.

There were books at home. I read in my own way. Sometimes I could not pronounce a certain word but could guess its meaning by looking at the context of the other words in the sentence.

I have never had trouble falling under the spell of the worlds that lie behind the covers of books. The Famous Five and Secret Seven, given for Christmas and birthdays appealed to my wild independent nature I could feel the hardness of the beds in the Ring O bells public house and feel the sea spray on Kirrin Island.

The excitement and danger was compelling but I remember feeling prickly when ‘poor children’ with scuffed shoes were always the wayward ones, who needed showing the proper way to behave.

When I was thirteen Grandad gave me a subscription to readers digest condensed books. I slept with the colourfully bound books under my pillow.

I moved on to paper backs smuggled from the attic; Valley of the Dolls and the Mallen trilogy

It was at ‘Secondary’ school the problems started poor eye sight, pink national health glasses, grey socks and cheap shoes were not worn by would be writers. Too self-conscious to sit at the front yet I couldn’t see from the back.

No matter how I tried I could not get to grips with the written word, I spelt the same words wrong in different ways in the same paragraph.

My writing was illegible the pen didn’t sit comfortably in my hand making it ache and I could not keep up with note taking. I had no organisational skills.

My work was literally held up by teachers has an example of how not to write an essay.

Don’t tell me the dog did your homework this week, Miss Worrell: home economics.

Did you use the most creased piece of paper you could find, Miss Smith: English.

Useless, useless, useless, Mr Parker History: as he threw the exercise book over my classmates’ heads aiming for either me or my desk. I was never sure.

Yet still I read. When I found Wuthering Heights at fourteen, the flow of the text seemed inextricably linked to the tumbling and sparkling moorland streams.

Words that gathered momentum picking up boulders and rocks, depositing them with great impact: you could feel the how precious each word had been to the author.

I scribbled scripts for Starsky and Hutch and songs for the Bay City Rollers.  One day I came home from school to find them torn to shreds dumped in the kitchen bin with mouldy tea bags and vegetable peelings.

‘They were disgusting,’ my mother screamed, ‘where did you learn words like that?’

‘From Valley of the Dolls’ I replied; the slap was quick leaving a hand print that lasted for hours.I still can’t read or watch the scene from ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’ where Mrs Winterson is burning books in the back yard without crying.

I did have access to books at home at my grandparents, at the school library.

The library van came once a week; the same man drove it for years.  It parked in the bus stop near the swings.

I preferred going in the winter months so I could sneak in without being seen.

What still haunts me, giving me the chills was me the apathy:

Nobody likes a clever clogs’ or ‘There’s sum ‘at wrong with that one always has her head in a book.’

‘Don’t get above yourself my girl’.

A fortune teller said there would be a family member who would have some success with the ‘written word’.

‘I was told it must be your sister, it couldn’t’ possibly be you could it?

In my forties dyslexia was diagnosed like a woolly mammoth in my brain, that was being  uncovered in an archaeological, dig, bit by bit until all the pieces fitted together.

This explained lots of things that had dogged my school years, my poor spelling, uncoordinated handwriting, lack of organisation and poor memory and exam performance. In doing an online Open University course, a degree especially chosen so I do not have to meet other students face to face very much.

Stan Barstow was the first author I read who I felt wrote about my world. I was about nineteen when I discovered him.

I still write but hide my work.

Only this year when listening to ‘Where are all the working class writers’ on Radio 4 I realised that it’s okay be from a working class background and have the temerity to want to be a writer.

Okay to have an opinion, to speak out, to listen to Radio 4 and Radio 3.

There are others like me.

It stops now: the shame, the hiding. I am a person who writes.

Bio I live in Lancashire, I have lived on a narrow boat working and traveling the system. My favourite water ways are the Shropshire Union canal and the Upper Thames but all canals have their unique beauty. My passions are nature, reading and writing and … Jack Russel terriers.  I have a degree in psychology and English.

Twitter: @megski1

Author: Carmen Marcus

As the daughter of a Yorkshire Fisherman and Irish Mother, my writing brings together the visceral and the magical. My debut novel #How Saints Die was published with Harvill Secker in 2017. It won New Writing North's Northern Promise Award as a work in progress and was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2018. My poetry has been commissioned by BBC Radio, The Royal Festival Hall and Durham Book Festival. As a child of an 80s council estate I am an advocate for working class writers and stories. I’m currently working on my first poetry collection The Book of Godless Verse and my next novel. I try to live up to the words of my first critic and primary school teacher ‘weird minus one house point.’

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