Did you ever run away from home, as a child? My childhood memories are sketchy at best. I recall the hullabaloo when my sister ran away, and was subsequently discovered hiding out in the neighbour’s garden.
I seem to remember a similar ruckus to do with me walking to or from Brownies by myself (it was several miles away along a deserted road) because Mum couldn’t take me.
My childhood comes back in vague flashes that I’ve learned not to rely on as the truth. But I do know that I was often away from the house. I roamed the fields, climbed trees, waded through rivers, either with friends or alone. Home was not a happy place and I avoided it when I could. (When a psychiatrist asked me to name a significant adult I remembered from childhood, I couldn’t, settling eventually on a neighbour who used to breed rabbits and whose house I used to haunt.)
The other place I escaped to was inside a book. No friends outside school? No matter. I had the Sweet Valley High twins, Nancy Drew and the Famous Five. No boyfriend? Never mind. I had a hundred romance stories, from Georgette Heyer and Mills and Boon, to Jane Austen and Emily Bronte. All the happy ever afters you could desire (what they did to my expectations of love and marriage is another post entirely.)
As an adult little changed. My roaming got further afield, to the Lake District and Scotland, Morocco and New Zealand. My reading switched, unfortunately, to Nineteenth Century Russian History, to be rescued by Shakespeare and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
And now? Now I long to run away. To roam the fields unfettered without rushing for the school run. I long to drive more than ten miles from home, to be by myself with wide open skies and roaring rivers. To not be ruled by the clock and the routine and the responsibilities. To get through a night without drawing on compassion that doesn’t come naturally or survive a day with no need for patience.
So I escape, into books, and discover that writing has become my salvation. Many writers I know have always been writers. They’ve known from the beginning that that is what they were meant to be. Not me. I wanted to an academic and control words, as I couldn’t control life. I had all the freedom I needed in the mountains I climbed and the books I read.
Then I became a mother, and my world contracted to a tiny point of endless worry. Even reading wasn’t always an escape (husbands and children don’t understand “this is a good bit” and are sure to interrupt at the climax, never mind my new inability to read anything where people suffer.)
I couldn’t find the books I needed, so I wrote them. I write of all I’ve learned, all the things I’ve done, the people I’ve been, to remind myself. I write of painting huge canvasses or taking photographs, hiking mountains and travelling far from home. I write to remember and I write to forget.
And I read, with my fingers in my ears. I hoard the last chapter until I know I can enjoy it uninterrupted. I read fantasy books by brilliant authors who let me live other lives for a while and make me want to be a better writer. I read at the school gate, and write in the supermarket, and plot and plan in the dark hours of coughing and crying and complaining and cuddles.
And I am free.