A very early work

I still have this story which I must have written at school when I was four or five. The full text is as follows:

Once upon a time there was an old man he lived in a church but he didn’t like it

The man cried very loud so he said I want a house to live in

He heard the door bell He peeped out of the window and saw somebody he would like

Now it was evening and the person said can I live with [you]

Yes please said the man

I will said the person.

They lived in a lovely cottage and they loved it and they wouldnt move house again

A smart car came to fetch the person but the person said I dont want to go

and the man in the smart car said you must go

and the old man shot the man in the smart car

Funny thing is, the story works pretty much like the stories I still write. It takes things from my own life and and mixes them up with imaginary things. There are recognisable autobiographical elements: I had not long moved from a terraced house to a large hollow house which might well have seemed like a church and was probably for various reasons associated in my mind with unhappiness.

Rather longer ago (when I was less than 2), and probably already outside of my conscious memory, an au pair girl who had looked after me – and (so I hypothesise) was warm and fun compared to my depressed and unpredictable mother – had returned to Germany, presumably collected in a car (by a boyfriend, perhaps, or maybe just a taxi driver?) I know I was very distressed by this, so it seems to me that this story was me rewriting that painful scene as if I had some power – murderous power, no less! Look at the old man smile as the smoke and flame comes out of his gun.

There’s a primitive magic in stories and pictures. It’s as if at some level we think by naming or depicting things, we can control them.

It’s interesting to me how the old man is allowed an age and a gender, but ‘the person’ is given neither, even though in the pictures she is clearly a woman or girl, as if this someone I wasn’t supposed to name. I’m struck by how the old man reaches out towards her from his window with both arms when she’s still outside his front door.

I’m still terrified of moving house and have lived in my present house for forty years.

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