I was fortunate to be able to visit family in my hometown last week. The old family home is in the midst of a big spring clean, with cupboards being cleared out and drawers being emptied, and things being brought out into the light for the first time in years, or in some cases, decades. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling, and I couldn’t help but feel the time slough off as I leafed through old school books or looked at old photographs.
One box that couldn’t help but take me back to my childhood contained battered and rusting toy vehicles. Die-cast cars and dented construction machinery, kept in the box for goodness knows how long. As I sorted through them, I couldn’t help but find myself thinking of long afternoons sat cross-legged on the floor, conjuring scenarios for all these toys to interact with each other. They were the building blocks of stories, with me able to create endless variations with the options available to me – from humdrum slices of everyday life, with toy-trucks helping out stranded cars, to franchise-mashing battles that would have a Hollywood lawyer ringing up dollar signs as Klingon starships went into battle with James Bond and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Of course, it also made me consider what I do for a day job these days, and had me pondering how much those hours spent creating stories from those die-cast toys helped me become a writer today.
I’m far from being a nostalgist. Quite the opposite. I’m driven by “tomorrow”, always thinking about the next project or the next story. I love to treat myself to the most modern technology, unable to resist the latest gadget that either makes my life a little more convenient, or dazzles me with some innovation I had never considered possible before. But seeing those old toys was powerful, especially with the added weight of childhood memory that they brought with them.
It also made me think about the potential that everyone has to tell stories. Children are all so comfortable spinning flights of fancy, often from the most mundane of settings, able to entertain themselves for long hours. The trick, I think, is to allow yourself to submerge yourself in the imagination and sense of potential that children have, one that – maybe – we lose as we get older with all the distractions of the “adult world”. I believe that everyone has a story to tell, and the trick is to find a way to just sidestep the pressures of life and try and find the same moods and attitudes we had when we were young. You just need to ask a simple question – “what if?”
So that’s my secret. Writers are children who never grew up. The tantrums are (mainly) fewer and further between, I’m glad to say.