I stumbled across the word ‘serendipity’ and it’s meaning engulfed me like hot flames. It means the art of finding something beautiful without looking for it. To see a butterfly’s fragile wings in vibrant yellows and muted peaches, the sound of the sea spitting at rocks that had been softened by the cruelty of time, the taste of ripened blackberries breaking apart on your tongue. We don’t look for any of it and yet the world offers it to us anyway.
In the same way, the world offered me writing and I graciously accepted. Bookshops had been pure magic to me, their scents and feel came to resemble a home, the words pasted on pages became magic spells that cast the reader into another world and made them feel things they had never felt before. This was all I wanted, to cast my own magic.
Back to where it all started, I’m sat cross legged on the blue carpeted floor of my local bookshop, the one that always brought the most magic and inhaled the all too familiar scent of folded paper. Us writers keep a precious secret all to ourselves, clutched in the grasp of our long fingers and held tightly to our chests. It doesn’t take an English literature degree or hours pouring over dictionaries to be able to write. No, all you need is the ability to feel, really feel and that gives you the power to carry your readers to the heartbreak of your characters, to the depths of war and the sense of flying when you’ve smoked too many joints in a row after a 2-month hiatus. They’ll believe what you write and then they’ll feel right alongside you.
When I was little I would dance in the aisles of these magic places (bookstores) and smile in a way my mother never saw me smile anywhere else. And then I would pick up a pen with my chubby fingers and let my own words spill from me. I remember one time I wrote about a wallpaper painted with fairies but at night they would come to life and peel their backs away from the wall, their transparent wings fluttering with mischief.
Years passed in a blur of inscriptions written in books and gifted at Christmas, first kisses amongst stacks of novels and laughter amongst siblings at the threat of spoiling a story they hadn’t yet finished. My writing grew as I grew, as my legs got longer, my stories became darker. Hints of violence became murder mysteries. Needless to say, I have never been murdered but you can use the feelings of being trapped in a lift or scared in the dark and apply that. No one needs to know. I had a host of trauma to fuel my writing for years and it gave me some of my best pieces.
And then I invented Jennifer Cameron. She looks tanned on black sand beaches with bleached blonde hair with hints of ginger and light brown. She thinks ‘Jen’ sounds professional, but ‘Jenny’ is affectionate. She was created from a place of fear, but she has run free. My Jenny was created to shroud who I am in a gentle mist so that my writing could pour out of me without judgement and yet she has flourished with those bonds in place.
Until she crashed…and burned.
I also discovered the word ‘phoenix.’ A large, mythical bird who is burned and then rises from the ashes. I need to fly out this cage of fire at the time when there is nothing left in me. Maybe some truth will replenish the magic that once burned to get out of me, to be read. I’ll give you a clue, I have the name of a swiss girl who dances in the mountains.
Oak shelves, real ornate ones, towered above me filled with a promise to deliver other people’s magic to me and I could swear to them offering a shimmer of hope that mine will come back. Serendipity.
Pulling a book off the shelf closest to me I flicked through the pristine white sheets and settled on page 7, chapter 1. A novel that took me on a journey of fear and escape, of hope and loss. Tears sprouted from my eyes and fell down my cheeks like raindrops trekking paths down car windshields.
As a baby we’re read stories from attentive mothers while we wrap up in fluffy footed pyjamas. You snuggle down in the crook of their arm and fall asleep to the soothing sound of a voice telling you about animals jumping through woodlands. That is the first magic, to soothe you and slide you into an unbroken sleep. By four my pen would scratch across paper and the second magic is that sense of achievement. The third is simple, make me laugh when I was crying and make me cry when I was laughing. Curl up with a book in front of a fire in the midst of winter and feel warm from the words spoken to you. The fourth is to spark something. Spark its own flame in your heart so you join the wizards and witches who create these emotion inducing works. Or spark a romance, held hands and brushing of lips in libraries behind high shelves and away from cameras.
I am happy to let the other magicians of this world continue to spark their magic while their works unfold. And I will read, as is my duty. But I cannot continue to write, I have healed enough to not be able to write about trauma, but I still have a way to go to be able to tell the tales of wholesome lives. Four-year-old me would be both proud and shattered but that is the way of the world… and of magic.
So here is my last story. My pen shall remain untouched, the ink drying as it balances precariously on the desk I’ll someday forget about. But I will never forget the magic that it brought me.