Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Early encouragement

I  demonstrated creative leanings from a very early age at school.  I vividly remember a series of cat pictures in chalk pastel that my teacher remarked upon. These were mounted and put up on the class room display. I remember getting first prize for another of my artistic creations at the village fete one year, a felt tip rendition of a red indian squire standing grinning outside her teepee. The year before that I had won a crocodile soap dispenser for a painting of a pig doing its supermarket shopping (buying frozen peas), and i seem to remember also winning something in a wellington boot decorating competition with (again red indian themed) 'Big Chief Smelly Welly' (though i think i have to thank my Mum for that really).

This success wained as i continued through school and moved from the village into the suburbs of Leeds.

The first time anyone really sat up and took notice of my writen work was when i wrote a poem about a burning building; a homework assignment for my middle school english lesson. I took inspiration for the poem from a bonfire i had recently attended where i had observed flames of different colours according to what was being burned. I was in 'middle set', a moderate achiever and far more interested in impressing the two boys who i shared a table with than actually concentrating on what i was supposed to be doing. I remember my teacher's surprised response to the poem, reading it, looking at me and asking me twice if i had really written it myself. It was a long time ago so my memory is hazy but there was a meeting with my Parents after that, maybe on Parents' evening, and i was moved up into the 'top set' for the rest of my english classes at middle school.

High school saw me back in the moderate achiever band. This time it was my own take on 'The Pearl Fisher', where i wrote in 'missing chapters' about diving for pearls ,that prompted my elevation to the high achievers class. However, now adolescent, i was even less interested in engaging with my studies and saw school as a social occasion.

In the one subject i did take seriously, drama, I was fortunate to have a most unorthodox teacher. Mr Griffiths was a comedia del arte specialist with a knowledge about theatre that went beyond that of a qualified teacher. Another homework task, where we were to use a newspaper article as inspiration for a play again generated an excited and enthusiastic response from Mr Griffiths. The play was staged as part of a presentation evening for parents alongside a play written by Mr Griffiths himself. This was the person who suggested that i go see Samuel Beckett's 'Not I' and 'Happy Days' at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, a seminal experience for me. It is his encouragement that nagged at my subconscious and repeatedly brought be back to writing.

When the school announced that a-level theatre studies was not on the syllabus and i wept with unsurity about the future it was Mr Griffiths who I turned to. His advice spurred me on sufficiently to leave the secure familiarity of school and go to college where a-level theatre studies was on offer, but i was adamant that i would be an actor rather than a writer.

During my studies at college i was described as an 'all rounder' and enjoyed lead roles. I found directing very exciting too. No one noticed anything remarkable about the plays that i wrote, in fact people seemed rather unsure about the one play that was staged while i was there. The notion of being a writer was relagated to the odd emotional charged diary entry where i lamented a failing romance or unrequited love.

When it came to leaving college and going to university  I was very close to securing a place at a prestigious drama school to undertake a BA in directing. However, i didn't make the final cut from a shorlist of twelve to fill the six available places. Looking back i can see that drama school and London wouldn't have worked for me. Perhaps one day i will elaborate on why here on my blog.

Here i am now, eighteen years after Mr Griffiths correctly informed me that i was a writer and that i should pursue this path.

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