“Are Writer’s Born or Made? ” by Suzy Davies.
The question I ask today is a question that one of my former tutors asked me when I announced I would write a book before I was sixty.
I think that although we are born with a set of predispositions and personality traits, nurture and socialization is by far the most important factor which influences, but does not determine, the career path someone will take in adult life.
Socialization is never “complete,” since human beings are in a constant state of process, but in this article, I describe my formative years up to the age of seven, and some of the things that shaped me as a writer.
According to research, the first seven years of childhood are important, hence the well-known saying, “Show me the child and I’ll show you the man.”
So what kind of childhood cultivates a writer? Writers come from diverse backgrounds, which are as diverse as their work. I am only able to comment on the factors I believe were key influences on my emergence as a writer.
The first thing that springs to mind, is that I hail from a dual language family. My mother was English and did not speak Welsh. My father was a native speaker of Welsh as his first language and spoke fluent English. My paternal grandmother was Welsh, but she, too, was a fluent speaker of English.
I learned basic spoken Welsh when I was very young, and the first language I learned to read and write was Welsh. For me, written English was exotic, even though I was born in England, and not in Wales. This “distance” between myself and English created a fascination for language. I have to say that this came after a rocky start.
When the family moved across the border to England, I was labeled as a “backward reader” because the teachers did not know I was confused. I was used to reading in Welsh. Fortunately, my parents put the teachers right, and I swiftly caught up with my peers, with a little help from a remedial learning support teacher who read aloud with me, one to one.
I can remember the house in which I grew up in England. We had homemade silk-screen curtains with Chinese patterns, that my father had made. There was a French papier-mache table in the hall. There were Japanese silk pictures – one of a Japanese woman, and one of a Japanese fish in the hall. In my bedroom, there was a painting of a bird, which was hand-painted. My father had a sketchbook – he loved Art – and one of the charcoal drawings he did – my favorite one, was entitled, “East Meets West,” and featured hand-drawn faces of children from all around the world, in a circle. The other drawings were nearly all of wild animals. My mother was a keen artist, too, and painted portraits. Both my parents were potters, and the house had quite a few ceramic pieces they had made.
The family ate Indian curry, which my mother made at home, with spices from Birmingham, and once a week, the family would visit the Asian fish and chips shop. I can’t remember whether we had curry sauce!
Both my parents liked Latino music, and my dad was fascinated with all things American. He loved Frank Sinatra. A particular delight for me was when I was given a child’s plastic vinyl record player. I had records of American square dancing music alongside the more usual Beatles records.
My curiosity about different cultures grew alongside my fascination with language from an early age. One of my earliest childhood friends was from Yugoslavia. I can remember staying round for sleepovers at her house, and I always enjoyed the stays because of the family culture, which was different from my own.
Many hours when I was a child were spent communing with nature. Animals were always part of this. In my early years, I explored rock pools at Borth beach and climbed Pen Dinas in Aberystwyth, among the flora and fauna and the sheep that grazed there. I went on donkey rides along Aber beach, and the ocean became one of my daily pleasures, in all weathers.
As a family, we often went on hikes, and my grandmother, a country girl, would name flowers and plants in the fields and hedgerows. She always identified the animals and birds and could read the weather forecast from what they were doing.
I have a distinct memory of picking winberries, that would be harvested and put in home-made pies, and remember my late dad could identify edible wild mushrooms, from poisonous ones. We would get up early and pick them, and have a big fry up of wild mushrooms for breakfast!
I fed wild birds by hand from the sash window at my grandmother’s flat, where we all lived. As I got older, I trekked wild places in Wales on horseback and went fishing with my dad. The whole thing in Wales was wild and wonderful.
However, after a move to the U.K, by the time I was seven, I was a sickly child and spent a lot of time on my own, indoors, away from school and confined to bed with ear and throat infections, as well as the usual childhood ailments such as chickenpox, measles and mumps. Books were a kind of escapism for me, and from that love of reading, I started to write stories of my own.
When I was well, in the summer, I would go on bicycle rides in the country with my best friend, or play with my friends at the local brook, where we fished for sticklebacks and tadpoles. I had a spaniel, who became a constant companion when I went on walks in the neighborhood. I can remember I always wanted to be outdoors in the summertime and hated being cooped up indoors to do compulsory school-work. Writing my own things was a pleasure and not the same!
My parents were in a sense, arty and liberal, but my Dad liked to have his lists of things I was not allowed to do under any circumstances. I hated some of these rules.
In particular, I can remember not being allowed to go to the fair. Rightly or wrongly, my best friend’s parents used to secretly take me and in a sense, I felt I had surrogate parents, who let me do some of the things that I was not supposed to do. I think this was a blessing because it gave me the chance to have more freedom than I would have had, and it gave me a taste of a different kind of childhood.
At this friend’s bungalow, we used to dress up as characters (usually fairies or witches,) make mud pies in the garage and watch T.V programs that might have been censored at home for being a little too sophisticated. With hindsight, I can see how this “double life” benefited me, since time spent with this friend was almost like living in another world. Neither was better; it was just different.
More than anything, what I remember about my formative years is the rich variety of experiences I was exposed to from an early age. I learned to be adaptable. I also learned how to be creative, since the toys I had I could count on one hand – my friends and I improvised and made our own play.
A particularly important thing was that there were always books – books at home, and at the local library. Many of my books in my early years were hand-me-downs from my mother’s family, but that did not matter. The stories that I read set my imagination on fire.
No, I was not born a writer. I decided I would learn to be one.
Copyright Suzy Davies, 20/09/2017. All Rights Reserved.