When I went to the academy though and discovered technical drawing—for which I exhibited a real talent which is odd because I can't draw freehand to save myself—I had no doubts about what I wanted to be when I left school: a draughtsman. I saw others fret about what subjects they were going to pick but I was resolute. I was always top of the year and in my final exam I got 98% and believe you me not scoring 100% in my Engineering Drawing O-Level bothered me. I walked straight out of the school gates into an apprenticeship in an architect's office only to discover that I wasn't nearly as good as I thought I was. Suddenly I was being asked to work with technical pens and at speed and I simply wasn't fast or accurate enough. After three months I resigned which was just as well because my boss admitted that he was thinking about sacking me.
All of a sudden I had to think about what else I might want to be. I took the first job that came along. I was well-suited to it because it involved a lot of arithmetical calculations but it was still just a job, something to pay my way in this life. Several jobs followed. I excelled at everything I attempted but never stayed anywhere long enough to climb more than a rung or two up the corporate ladder.
When Mrs Travers asked her class what they wanted to be when they grew up every single one of us apart from Brian S. said what they expected to do for a living when they grew up. Only Brian said what he wanted to be and yet he was the one we all laughed at. As a kid all I really wanted to be was grown up and I suspect that's what underscored Brian's answer. That felt like an end in itself. I wanted what grown-ups had, control over my own life. As a kid I had to do what I was told and I imagined that adulthood would free me from that. Much to my surprise and disappointment I found that the freedom I did experience was relative and I've never not been answerable or accountable. Well that sucked.
But what did I want to be? I've been many things: a son, a brother, a student, a boyfriend, a lover, a husband, a father, a cheat, a hypocrite and many other things. Which of them was me? I guess we can only answer a question like that when we're on our own, when we get up in the morning dry-mouthed and bleary-eyed and look in the bathroom mirror. Who’s looking back at us?
My dad told me once that it's really wrong to talk about human beings. There was only one being and that was God; we were creatures, creations. Only God is, was and will be and never changes. That's what a being is. I was a kid so I never argued with him. I suspected his logic was flawed but he was my dad. When I think about this as an adult I agree with him on one point: humans don't be (if you'll forgive my grammar), they become. That's a whole different question isn't it? What do you want to become when you grow up? Sounds much the same but it isn't.
What I became was a writer. I wasn’t born one. Many are. There are authors out there who started making up stories as soon as they could clutch a pencil. I was never one of those. Nor was I an avid reader. I read but I preferred the TV. Still do if I'm being honest. My parents were not readers. I never saw either of them pick up any kind of work of fiction after we could read for ourselves. I was not taught to hate books but then neither was I taught to love them. I always loved words though. I loved their algebraic quality. I loved how you could take a simple word, add on a prefix and a suffix and suddenly it meant something completely different. I thought that 'antidisestablishmentarianism' was a wonderful word when I first heard it. As is 'electroencephalographic' and 'floccinaucinihilipilification' and 'hemidemisemiquaver'. I loved learning new words. They didn't have to be big words but I delighted in the fact that there were these words out there. I once gave a character in a novel wind just so I could use the word 'borborygmically'. (Borborygmus is an abdominal gurgling sound attributable to the passage of fluid and gas within the intestines.) I gave another big boobs so I could have them jactitate.
The signs were there from early on but you need the conditions to be right before you can see what you're truly capable off. All water needs is to be around something very cold or something very hot to realise that it's capable of being much more than merely fluid. Ice and steam are natural states. Being a draughtsman isn't a natural state; it's job of work, something someone does but not who he is. I've left several jobs in my life—been made redundant a couple of times but was never sacked—and I simply moved on, learned something new. But once I realised I was a writer I knew there was no going back. I could stop writing but I'll never unbecome a writer. That's the difference.