… ‘Well done, but could try harder’ …
I was probably ten years old when I read that comment on the report card I received from the little country school that was my first exposure to the world beyond the wild scrubby bushland of my earliest memories.
I looked at those six words and my heart broke and raged at the same time.
I knew I’d ‘done well’. I answered all the questions in the tests and understood most of what the teachers taught, when they weren’t sending to the headmaster’s office for yawning in class. I had a lot of chores before I left home in the morning and it was a very long walk to school. I knew I’d done well so the rest of the comment didn’t make any sense at all.
Ten year old’s egos are fragile things, and the slightest hint of an undeserved adverse judgment sets off their ‘unfair’ button. Mine was ringing loud and clear all the way home try as I would to ignore it.
I presented the paper to my parents, my mother having withheld reading it until my father came home, with great optimism and faith that these two stalwarts of my life would rectify the matter immediately and the last four words of the comment would be retracted the very next day.
Of course they weren’t.
Why would my parents take the word of their daydreaming daughter over that of an adult and a teacher, a person of authority? You see, they felt that those words reflected badly on them. That they had somehow failed.
And so, I was indeed admonished to ‘do better’ next time. The ‘well done’ was never addressed.
What did I do? What power does a small child have in such circumstances?
I began my first strategic withdrawal; into the world of fiction, science fiction, and fantasy.
Thank you Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, John Wyndham, Arthur C. Clarke, and all the other heroes of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burrows, Olaf Stapleton and many more, for making me think REALLY hard, critically analyse EVERYTHING I’d been told, and showing me that spaceships were real.
Thanks must also go out to Tolkien, Stephen Donaldson, George R R Martin, (will he ever finish the next book!) Ian Irvine, Raymond Feist, S M Stirling, for exposing me to the wonder and magic of High Fantasy Epics.
But you know who’s missing from this illustrious list?
Of the many things that prompted me to become an author the lack of women writing in my favourite genres was among the most urgent. Running a close second was the masses of junk that I also read and scornfully tossed aside, vowing that I could and would write better than that, But that’s a post for another time.
Now I know about Ursula Le Guin, MZB, Janny Wurts, Kage Baker, James Tiptree, Anne McCaffrey, Sherwood Smith, Jacqueline Carey, Sharon Shinn, Elizabeth Moon, Mercedes Lackey, Tanya Huff, Lynn Flewelling, Lois McMaster Bujold, Kate Elliot, and oh so many others who write for large and small presses, for large and small readerships, but none-the-less write because they have to.
They all have stories to tell, and so do I.
“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it” – Anais Nin