Autobiography Early Years

My Magic Camera

When we are very young we take ourselves for granted. When I first met other children at school I quickly found out that they were nothing like me. Every encounter with another child was disagreeable. I wasn’t shy, but no one wanted to talk about what mattered to me. It was as though they were in another world. The only things I enjoyed at school from the time I was five until eleven, were dancing, singing and chanting times-tables in unison, spelling tests and hearing some wonderful poems and stories read out to us by the teacher. Everything else was tedious and boring. Every day I longed for the time to go home so that I could read and play the games I invented for myself.

If you want to find out what your own and your children’s personal skills are, the games we make up for ourselves will give us the answers. I did not like dolls, nor babies. But I liked to make a doll with a stick, coloured pencils and pieces of material when I was three years old. As I grew older and could write, I also made a toy theatre out of a shoe box. I painted the backcloth and dressed up some tiny dolls for actors. Then I wrote a play.

I did not like ready- made mechanical toys except for spinning-tops and any toy that required my doing something. It became clear to me as I grew older that I was very imaginative and curious about the strange behaviour of people. I am an observer. Every day I see something worth watching going on wherever I might be. I shop in Waitrose because it is a pleasant place to shop in. I always stop for a cup of tea so that I can watch people, especially the children, because they do just what they want to do and their parents make sure to keep them safe without crushing their enthusiasm. This is a big improvement on what I experienced as a child.

All my life I have seen things as pictures. I still see myself taking imaginery shots with My Magic Camera. Whenever I notice something colourful and well-designed it goes straight into my memory where it waits to come to the surface when I need it. Once it has risen again I can not only see it but I feel its atmosphere and sometimes I remember short stretches of talk.

Even words are pictures to me. Each one has a shape and I very rarely make a spelling error.

My dreams are very helpful to me both as a writer and an artist. I often wake up in the night with new ideas and pictures after I have been reading something connected with my research. My Magic Camera never lets me down both in daytime and when I am asleep. It took me decades to realise that there are very few people with these skills. They were with me since I was born: gifts from my ancestors.

When I was very small, about three or four, I had a strong feeling that I had come from a place far more beautiful than this planet of ours and I wanted to go back to it. Two of my friends had the same experience and many writers, including William Wordsworth and Emily Bronte.