Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Waiting for NASA to call, by Valerie Laws

The other night, I watched the biog of Tove Jansson on BBC4. It was superb. We saw how the life of this sometimes childlike, sometimes decadent, always living life on her own terms Swedish-speaking Finn was translated into Moomin stories for the enjoyment and enchantment of millions. Also a brilliant artist, she began drawing at a very early age and never lost, through happy times and sad, her love of playfulness. I remember loving the stories but they weren’t my favourites, they had a melancholy darkness about them redolent of the snow and sinister forests of their creator’s home.


Still writing thrillers, but
with gurls in them.
Then last week I read and greatly enjoyed Rosalie Warren’s 26th December blog post about her own early efforts, both drawing and writing, and forthwith changed my mind about today’s blog post, deciding to join in the nostalgia-fest and add to the examination of how writers are made. As a child, from a very early age, I loved books and reading. I also loved writing, creating stories and poems both at school and at home. I was lucky during one year in my tiny village primary school to have a wonderful teacher who encouraged me as a writer, Mr Bruce, who would ask me to write ex-curricular stories and then critique them. Many years on, I've named my female homeopath detective Erica Bruce, in his honour, in my crime novel THE ROTTING SPOT and the follow-up THE OPERATOR (still stuck between agents and ebooks!). Back then, though, I thought of reading and writing as things you did, like eating, rather than things you grew up to do for a living.

Another thrilling adventure...
Despite being at that time very unsporty, specs-wearing, and a ‘gurl’, in my fervid imagination I wasn’t a writer but more of a Jane Bond than a Jan Fleming. I have one surviving exercise book from school, when I was about nine years old. My ruling passion was space - I longed to be an astronaut or something similarly macho. Being told I couldn’t because I was a girl was infuriating, but at least in my stories I could be anything I wanted to be.

Space is for men, or so they
told me.
In ‘A Trip To Pluto’ I’m on fire, saving the day right and left. ‘... I switched on the air purifier of my ship. I took a ton of oxygen all packed in cylinders. Then I set off for Pluto with my crew of five. It was all right at first but then one of my crew reported a swarm of meteors. We were heading strate for them. I rushed to the controls but it was too late. We went rocking around the ship, trying to keep balance but without sucsess.’ After this mistimed disco, I went out to inspect the ship wearing handy magnets on my boots. Clearly useless at delegating. ‘One of the fins was damaged and part of it was drifting around in space. I fetched a life line and let go of the rocket. I had a jet on my back. Suddenly the jet broke down and in a minute I was drifting around with the fin. I took out my ray gun and fired it over my shoulder. I went hurling back into the open door of the ship.’ Phew! Good job I had a working knowledge of Newton’s Laws. After many adventures, rescuing a wrecked ship, and dealing with shortages (‘we ran out of fuel, we ran out of air’ - the teacher has added ‘nearly’ to the second part) we lost all our oxygen cylinders but I saved the day yet again by spotting a box of oxygen pills! Yay! I was rewarded for all this effort thus: ‘I told the commander about it and he gave me a week’s leave.’

This strange mix of ego and modest demands is a common thread. Given a magic wish, I spend a fortnight with the Beatles (luckily not Jimmy Savile) and after touring with them, I go out and buy, yes buy, their records and posters. What an idiot not to grab freebies! My wish to travel includes the USA but also Liverpool. In story after story, I fight pirates and gun-toting train robbers, lead gangs of spies, and climb a mountain bigger than Everest, losing most of my ‘men’ to grisly ends in rapids, chasms and landslides. I’m first to the summit, after which I ‘went home.’ I'm Just Wilhelmina.

My dream car, when aged nine...
‘My Ambition’ sums it up. ‘I intend to have an adventurous job... I would like to be a parachutist or a space man. I would like to start training now, but I don’t know of anywhere where I can learn, and also my mother might not let me.’ Shame Google didn’t exist then. And she wouldn’t have! ‘I also like detective stories and I would like to be one of those as well.’ I think I meant a detective rather than a story, or indeed, writer. Elsewhere, to fund my ‘white mansion’ full of animals and near a white sand beach with deep blue sea and tall palms, not to mention my ‘small private aeroplane’ (note the ‘small’, I’m not greedy) and my Ford Galaxy and Firebird Three cars, I’m planning on being ‘a spaceman or space station operator’ though I’m going to fit in being ‘a vetinary surgeon and a parachutist in my spare time.’ Not a single female character in any of the stories. And I seem to be male as well.

Girls just wanna have fun
Thank god I’ve made up for that by not only having a female crime fiction protagonist, but also writing feisty females like Lydia Bennet in LYDIA BENNET’S BLOG. I watched my housewife superstar (later a teacher) mother staying behind to cook and clean while my father took me and my bro out birdwatching and rockpooling, and knew which side I wanted to be on. (Though I did play a lot with my female friends, toy high heels and my Sindy doll. Hedging my genders.)

However my mother found my weakness. ‘You have to be good at maths to be an astronaut.’ Damn! Apart from team sports, the only thing I couldn’t do at school. So many years later, when I did my maths/physics degree to prove to myself I could do pure maths, and quantum theory, and relativity, perhaps I was still trying to qualify, though strangely enough NASA still haven’t called. When I studied cosmology, I was travelling through space in my head. I never became a pirate chief, a space ‘man’, a Russian spy, or a mountaineer, though I’ve had plenty of adventures and travelled, even to Liverpool. I never became a detective, but I write their stories. I became a poet, perform on stage, enjoy being a gurl, and do all sorts of things I never imagined. When I wrote these stories I thought I was preparing for a life of pioneering physical derring do, but I was actually learning to be a writer.

My website http://www.valerielaws.co.uk with my 11 books and various activities, all on earth so far.
My two ebooks: Lydia Bennet's Blog http://amzn.to/LydBBUK
& The Rotting Spot http://amzn.to/RotSpot

And may I wish you all a HAPPY NEW YEAR, may you live your dreams in 2013!

7 comments:

madwippitt said...

Wow! I'm impressed by your determination to prove you copuld do maths - although perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, as it shines through in your early prose!

Lydia Bennet said...

thank you! a bit bonkers really but there we are.

CallyPhillips said...

Really interesting (and fun) post. I have a theory that those of us who CAN'T do school maths (or physics- like you I bombed on both of those) are actually those best placed to understand quantum physics. (Don't know enough about pure maths to add it to my theory) It's not our fault THEY WERE TEACHING US THE WRONG STUFF.
And Nasa's loss is our gain!!!!! Happy New Year.


Lydia Bennet said...

thank you Cally, same to you! yes and I'd look so hot in one of those space person onesies. something I didn't know at age 9.

julia jones said...

Awesome Valerie (and I really really want to read the Rotting Spot - such a good title, apart from anything else)

Rosalie Warren said...

Lovely post, Valerie! Thanks for sharing your space adventures. And well done for rising to the challenge on the Physics front too!

Lydia Bennet said...

thank you Julia, I hope you enjoy The Rotting Spot (a skull-hunting term!) in due course. thank you too Rosalie.