I have always been a writer. It’s less a career choice, and more a part of my gooey innards. Since I was a tiny Knitshade, before I was even a Knitshade really, I wanted to write a book. I would tell anyone who would listen that one day I would write a bestseller and make my living as a writer of books. I tottered home from the library with piles of borrowed tomes so high I could barely see over them. My pen-wielding heroes were Roald Dahl, Diana Wynne Jones, Dr. Seuss, E.B. White, Barbara Sleigh, Snoopy (a literary great) and C.S. Lewis.
The book worm makes words
At school I scrawled five-part epics in my English books in which I, and my feline sidekick Snappy (one of our family cats), would fight dragons, solve crimes and learn to do magic from ghostly rabbits with eerie powers in their long ears.
I dreamed that one day I would live in a cabin by a lake where I would spend my days spattered with ink, weaving webs of words amongst towering shelves of other people’s books (no daydream of my future home was complete without more bookshelves than wall space) and by night reading my tales to passing fireflies and foxes.
As I grew older I abandoned my pen for my mum’s old typewriter. Hammering the keys and coating myself liberally in tippex, I created my first epic entitled ‘Sneak, the Mean and Bad Weasel’. The story involved talking woodland creatures in impressive hats and a weasel who was, as the title suggested, not a very nice neighbour. It came in instalments that always ended with ‘And you can find out more in the next page…” and was complimented by my own wonky illustrations.
At school I wrote endless diaries and very bad poetry recounting my growing up woes and yays. They are locked in a box with a very large padlock on it, along with the red-faced shame monster of teenage angst that I’m sure will run riot should I ever read them again.
At university I took a degree course called ‘Experience of Writing’ in which my fellow students and I wrote fairly badly and experienced the writing of others by patiently waiting for them to shut up so we could talk about our own work. I penned a gory play for radio in which my nerve-frayingly obnoxious flatmate was killed off by a hamster I had purposefully infected with a strain of zombie rabies; a short story about two people with wings who meet for a pancake breakfast at diner handily next to the Grand Canyon (I had no idea if there was a diner at the Grand Canyon. I expect not) before popping out for a soar, and a poem about my dead goldfish that my lecturer thought was about a family member and got all teary-eyed when I read aloud.
On returning to London from university my writing ground to a halt as I became a proof reader (my spelling had improved rather impressively thanks to all that reading). The river of red correcting ink I splashed on other people’s copywriting drowned my desire to write words of my own.
In my rare diary entries I longed for something dramatic to happen, a galloping storybook adventure thundering to rescue me from the nine-to-five dragon.
Here’s where the phrase ‘Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.’ echoes loudly through my life.
The book worm becomes a warrior (and learns to knit)
In April 2004 my adventure arrived in the form of a large, terrifying ‘what the hell is that lump?!’ on my collarbone and, two months later, a snow-haired Professor in a natty bow tie calmly informing me that I had been diagnosed with Stage Two Bulky Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I had cancer.
It was the same disease that stole my dad when I was less than two years old, and now, like the cheesy plot of a badly dubbed Japanese monster movie, it has come for his daughter. It was made clear that if I didn’t do something about it right away it was going to kill me. My family and I took a collective deep breath and I officially became a cancer fighter.
Scans revealed the cancer (or the Big Casino as Tony Soprano has taught me to call it) to be three separate areas of nasty about my person. I suppose it rather liked me, as it proved to be a stubborn little bugger too. Let the battle commence.
I officially lost several rounds at the start. The Big C’s resistance was feisty. I managed to keep a peach fuzz of my hair, it managed to keep a stronghold in my chest cavity, and it became clear we were digging in for an epic war.
In the screaming face of all that horror I did what any girl in peril would do. I learned to knit. It seemed to me that yarn and needles would be a good distraction from the arms and needles of my every day life. Sure there was poison in my veins and I had hair like Sinead O’Connor, but I’d be damned if I was going to let that be the end of all things. If I was going to spend all day fighting, I would do it with some mean pointy sticks in my mitts, dammit!
I had no idea, when I first picked up those sticks and string, that I was waking a woolly Godzilla…
To be continued. (See? I told you I was good at suspense although you’re probably pretty sure I made it. Since I’m not writing this from beyond the grave. Or am I…?)