As part of the UKYACX blog tour (MG variety), I’m very pleased to welcome author Martyn Ford to the blog today, continuing on the occasional series of Dreams and Regrets guest posts. Over to Martyn
Tasked with writing a blog post on “dreams and regrets”, we first have to define the words. I’m going to interpret the former, dreams, in the aspirational sense – an ambitious goal – and not write, despite the temptation, an account of that time I swapped souls with an old school teacher in order to trick a talking crab called Sesame Jones out of stealing all of my teeth.
And the latter, regrets, I’m largely going to ignore because I’m one of those people who says conceited things like, “Oh, ya, no, I don’t have any regrets”. Not because I’ve perfectly handled the many millions of choices I’ve had so far in my life, heavens no, but because regretting things is a bit like saying you’d change them in a time travel situation. And we don’t need to google chaos theory to know why that’s a bad idea.
So, what is my dream (goal, aspiration, target, whatever)? If I’m completely honest, I actually don’t know. Because every time I achieve something I set out to achieve, the target moves. It’s like running to the horizon.
This is a paradox. It seems to me the kind of people equipped with the necessary discontent, the compelling drive to work hard towards a situation different from their current one, are often the people not satisfied with the result.
I think I have a compelling urge to be creative, that’s all. Any achievements outside of that – which I’ve often mistaken for goals – are simply a nice bonus, a by-product. And, recently, I’ve learned that this is fine.
Almost a decade ago, I was 19 years old and working at an off licence. While it was a wonderful place to work, for all the wrong reasons, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. (Once, and this is true, I was so unstimulated that I stuck cutlery to the ceiling with Blu-Tack. A spoon here, a fork there, not too much. I had to use a ladder. If you don’t believe me, well, good. Making that up is less weird than actually doing it.)
“Ah, well, what do you want to do?” was the common response to my apparent dejection.
I had no real answer, besides a vague desire to write.
“Ah, well, what do you want to write?”
Again, just pouts and shrugs from me.
Fast forward a bit and I was walking past my local newspaper’s office. In the window they were advertising a vacancy for a junior reporter. I wandered in and, despite my lack of experience and (although I lied about this bit) ability, the editor offered me a job. She is one of many kind people who have given me the benefit of the doubt at various milestones in my career.
This was good (it still is, I still work for the company, albeit on a different paper). I was getting warm. This was a well-trodden path. I’d heard successful writers say they started in regional journalism.
(In fact, it’s a job I’d recommend to any aspiring writer. It consists of speaking to people, learning about the world and writing. I can’t think of any three things more beneficial to a would-be storyteller.)
But it wasn’t quite it. I wanted more creativity. I wanted to write things which weren’t true.
And so I founded my very own rejection letter factory. It’s quite simple, you can make one yourself. First, write a bad screenplay or a bad novel. Then, pitch it to every literary agent/ publisher/ producer you can find.
It got to a very strange point where if there wasn’t a rejection letter in the post/ email inbox, I felt a pang of disappointment. What kind of next level, masochistic psychology is that?
In the interest of brevity – let’s leap forward in time a few more years. Finally, I sat down and started writing a draft of what would later become The Imagination Box, an idea I had been stewing since the age of about eight and, more importantly, the first thing I finished that I felt positive about. That, alone, was a triumph for me.
Thankfully it secured me a brilliant agent and, about five years after my first draft, was published by Faber & Faber. It has since become a trilogy – I’ve recently finished the third.
It’s about a machine that creates anything you imagine. So themes of desire and the overblown virtues of getting what you want are prevalent.
It seems so trite to say something like, “it’s the journey, not the destination”. But it’s true. It’s about the whole ritual, the hard work, the knowing smile. Each and every rung.
The utterly bewildered frown on your colleague’s face the following day when they look up and notice that spoon – that’s just a lovely bonus.
Maybe, just maybe, I “regret” taking most of my twenties to figure that out.
So who else is now checking the ceiling for cutlery? Or contemplating sticking some up there? Great post from Martyn, and you can catch him in action at UKYACX next week – all details here.
Martyn Ford is a journalist and author of The Imagination Box trilogy (Faber & Faber in the UK, Delacorte in the US). Follow him on twitter at @Martyn87 or check out his website here
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