Sometimes, it happens (in my experience anyway) that one thinks one is doing something new, but it turns out one has been doing it for years—and years and years. In my case, over 70 years!!!
When I started writing about Helen Docherty and her immediate family, I was under the impression that I was writing about my own experience of growing older and dealing with ageism and other annoying aspects of 21st century cultural life in the so-called western world. Because they are very similar, as far as I am aware, in Australia and the USA as it is in the UK.
But as time as passed, and each week I concoct some new relationship transaction for Helen to experience, her family circle widens and so does the range of people she encounters. For a while I went through a stage of panic each week, wondering if I would be able to write a new episode. And then, about three weeks ago, the ideas began to tumble over each other in an effort to get themselves a day in the sunlight. So to speak. Characters began suggesting how they would like their lives to evolve, they began to interact with each other, independently of Helen. This fictitious universe was populating itself, whether I liked it or not.
I liked it, a lot. I wondered where it all came from. I wondered why it was that I was now thinking about them all as if they are real people of my acquaintance. I keep forgetting who plays them, and hearing their voices quite separately from my own. Then it hit me.
A memory from my childhood. Not one to have an ‘imaginary friend’ when I was very small, when I found myself at boarding school at the age of 9, away from home for eight months of the year, I went through a phase of creating a whole new family for myself. We were orphans, twelve siblings, ranging in age from 3 to 22. The two oldest girls, twins, were raising us after our parents had died shortly after the birth of the most recent baby—I have no idea why or how, just never went into it. I liked having older sisters to guide and nurture me. I enjoyed having older brothers to tease me, and younger children to be responsible for. I would take myself off to a tree in the school grounds with an exercise book, and write down the conversations I would have with each of my brothers and sisters. No-one knew. I never mentioned it. As the years passed and school work became more all encompassing, I forgot about them. How could I? I feel quite guilty now, that I could have just abandoned them like that. But I guess that’s kids for you.
Now, of course, they are back. All grown up, scattered around the world, wondering whatever happened to me…