For our new series we’ve invited people to share stories of their childhood artefacts. Megan tells us of her literary genius.
A few months back, on a day where I was at my most doubtful, my most fearful and claustrophobic, an airmail envelope arrived. Lodged itself on my desk. Was one of those thick, irresistible mustard envelopes that hint at a slower time. Sender: Granny. She’d enclosed some of my roughly-bound childhood compositions, my Trinity College Grade One Pianoforte Certificate, and some letters I’d written with tremendous care in my wobbly eight-year-old handwriting (mainly about my Grade One Piano Certificate).
I still don’t know why she sent them, but when she did it was like being tipped back into my wooden home in suburban Auckland, chunky South African carvings everywhere and the wonder of a new notebook or an empty Microsoft Word document.
Granny had sent two of my childhood stories, riddled with clichés and written with such enthused earnest that just thinking of them fills me with a strange medley of cringes, nostalgic sighs, and ticklings of doubt. One of these stories was clearly a rip-off of The Babysitters Club Super Special #7: Snowbound, where a snowstorm strands everyone in Stoneybrook and Stacy goes missing. Except in my story I replaced Stoneybrook with Howick; never mind that pretty much the only time it’s ever snowed in Auckland was, coincidentally, two years ago and even then it was probably just hail.
The second piece, stapled crudely together at the sides, was my very first submission for
publication. I’d called it The Sparrow and Other Stories and I was eight. In these stories I set myself up as a veiled protagonist so that all the good things happening were really happening to me. Like ‘Sarah’, who finds a broken-legged sparrow and nurses it back to life in her doll’s house, until it hops away happily to rejoin its family. In reality, I’d tried to revive a sparrow in a shoebox and it died. I think probably one of the first joys anyone discovers in writing fiction is tampering with reality, and I’ve always exploited this fully with about as much guilt as a Gnostic demiurge.
The finale of my masterpiece was ‘The Monster in the Tree’, where a poor four-year-old Elizabeth stupidly mistakes a caterpillar for a monster in the garden. She saves the day by revealing the mistake and taking the caterpillar to school where she gets an A+ and amazes everyone. Again, the solemnity with which this ‘dream ending’ is announced both appals and softens me.
But most of all, by re-reading these stories I’m struck by how well they work in their simplicity. They make a story of everyday events. They are riddled with clichés. There are hardly any adjectives at all. They are amazing.
When reminiscing about his own childhood in Words, Sartre said it was the interpretation of his precocious childhood writings into a future ‘vocation’ that ruined his words forever. “It was too good to last,” he wrote. “I should have remained sincere if I had preserved my secrecy; it was torn from me.”
Even though Sartre was clearly a ridiculous prodigy of a child, I think everyone is familiar with this feeling. When I re-read my childhood scrawlings, I wonder if I’ll ever approach that kind of unveiled sincerity and guileless narrative, and I wonder too whether this kind of sincerity can survive in a public medium at all.
I remember mailing The Sparrow to Harper Collins Publishers after my Dad let me print my stories out using his high-grade office paper. Much later, Harper Collins sent me a letter announcing, unfortunately, they weren’t publishing books by children, but to keep trying and perhaps use the ‘spell check’ function. That was my first rejection letter and it’s still my favourite.
Below is an exact transcription of the closing poem from The Sparrow and Other Stories. I like to see it as a metaphor for the power of words in recreating reality, but I know it’s actually just an homage to my love of enormous boxes.
My Plane. (a poem.)
I have a plane,
it is big it is strong,
it can zoom through the air,
yet my plane is only cardboard.
Words from Megan Anderson. Megan is The Blue Corner Editor.
Illustration from Tilly Hutchison. See more of her work at tillydrawspictures.tumblr.com.