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I was born in Deptford in South East London in the early summer of 1948, and soon began exhibiting an avid interest in my immediate environment. I have been told that my first word, in the winter of that year, was “Snow!” but I’ve long suspected that it might actually have been “No.” I wasn’t an easy child. I talked too much, thought too much, and definitely noticed too much.
Mastering how to read and write swiftly followed my urgent need to express myself verbally. I clearly needed an audience, and without available siblings instead imagined into being a cluster of unseen friends with whom I had wondrous escapades. Our family dog was inevitably roped in as one of the players, and only attempted one savage bite of desperate non-compliance. I chose to think of it as a love-nip.
After I won a literary competition at the age of 13 there was no stopping me. I realised I was destined to be a writer and completed my first novel a year later. Crushed by my English teacher’s verdict that Elizabeth Bowen had better executed the theme in ‘The Death of the Heart’, I destroyed the manuscript with the breathtaking recklessness of the thwarted teen – an impulsive action my eventual archivist will doubtless rue.
At the age of 17 I left school and began working on Honey magazine, where my first short story was published. From then until 1992 I was prolifically published in numerous literary and women's magazines, writing stories, serials and articles, and in 1986, the same year I moved to Oxford, I had a novel published called 'Keeping Secrets'.
For the following two years I read my short stories weekly on BBC Radio Oxford, and in 1999 a collection of linked stories called 'Oxford Marmalade' was brought out on audiotape. My son and daughter, born respectively in 1969 and 1971, helped enormously throughout all these early years to keep my feet on the ground and my sense of humour alive and well and occasionally kicking. Thankfully they and my grandchildren still manage to.
In 1990 I realised that writing about the fascinating vagaries of the human condition, often with a rather dark, edgy humour, just wasn’t enough, and for the next four years I cultivated some necessary compassion by training as a psychotherapist. My work over the ensuing years took me away from writing, while using many of the same creative skills. That decision to change direction was a defining moment I never once regretted.
Eventually the compelling urge to return to writing picked me up and shook me until I relented. Leaping headfirst into the 21st century I forsook traditional publishing and turned to the Amazon kindle option, discovering on the hoof just how much that requires. It’s no longer possible for an author to languish in an ivory tower – not if they want to sell books.
As an only child writing was an escape into a world peopled with friends who accepted my stage management. I was living in a deteriorating urban environment, an old part of London that years later was razed, renamed and rebranded as ‘Docklands’. The house and the street that I grew up exist now only in my imagination, as vividly real there as ever – possibly slightly more so since I was inclined towards daydreaming at the time.
Imagination can be something of a poisoned chalice. I was sometimes told I had too much of it. But my preference for dramatic realism, even at the age of 7, was revealed in the punch line of my first story, ‘Tiptoes the Elf’: “And this was the sorry end of the foolish elf who tried to be like a man.” When I rewrote it many years later the denouement was far less tragic.
One of my many defences against boredom was to ask my mother to think up three totally unrelated objects out of which to weave a story. She was always unflaggingly impressed, and her genuine delight in all my stories gave me enough confidence as a writer to enter and win that literary competition at 13. The rest, as they say, is history.
Sometimes change happens because we invite it, and sometimes as an inevitable corollary to all that has gone before. The shift from writer to psychotherapist was almost seamless. It feels quite natural to me to skip lightly from one identity to another and not be too attached to any. I stood at a fork in the road when I chose to become a therapist. Maybe I felt I’d written everything I had to say and was ready to start listening instead.
At 21, when my son was born, I realised – as I did again when I gave birth to my daughter – that I had never really known until then what love was. A similar process occurred in my work as a therapist. It sometimes seemed a shared meditation in which my client and I were deeply immersed in an ocean of understanding – and where understanding is, love follows. In all my years as a therapist, I was continually engaged in learning how to love. It’s the same lesson that my children, and their children, have taught me. I feel humbled and grateful for it.
Most of the time we experience our life as a continuous thread of experience, without much time or reason to step aside from it and reflect on where we’ve been and who we think we are. Every so often something happens that stops us in our tracks and forces that reflection upon us – loss, for example, or illness, or a sudden change in circumstances.
And when we do reflect we notice there are patterns – relentless patterns creating eddies in what we thought was an always original, onward flowing storyline. The journey we take through life is not so much linear as concentric, and here we are again, at a place we recognise as vaguely familiar, only we don’t stay for long enough ever to question that too closely. Until we do.
And then we see the patterns everywhere, regularly recurring to remind us of where we’re stuck, and the bits of flotsam and jetsam we’ve accumulated that slow us down.
It is often in those patterns where the real story exists, waiting to be discovered.
If you'd like to know even more about me, follow this link to read more about my journey.
NOVELS BY LESLEY HAYES
SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS BY LESLEY HAYES
Copyright © 2015 Lesley Hayes. All rights reserved.