I'm getting ready to take up work on one of my novels about anthropomorphic animals again.
Every so often someone suggests that I should write something set in a school, because "that sells".
I don't really want to. My school memories don't make a story. They make the opposite of a story, images of a place where nothing follows from anything, and nothing ever changes.
Here are some of my clearer memories:
In primary school I get desperate about the shrieking and yelling that happens every time the teacher leaves the room for a minute.
This is year one.
I think about the years still ahead and feel something needs to be done. I can't tell them to shut up, but maybe I can bribe them...
I make a list of everyone and start crossing out the names of the noisy kids, planning to give the quiet ones that are left at the end of the day presents, whatever I have. I go through my belongings in my head and wonder what I can spare. Not my pencil case. Maybe I can draw them something?
Some days later I notice that no one has spoken to me for ages. I don't have friends yet, so it takes me a while to become aware of it. I speak to some classmates and they just turn away. It's bizarre and frightening.
When I collapse in a puddle of tears and my mother phones the school to ask what happened, it turns out that the whole class has decreed me an outcast and informer because I "write down names for the teacher". - I did manage to silence them, after all. I have to apologise to my classmates, and they graciously agree to talk to me again as long as I behave. But I don't think they ever quite forget that I'm a spy.
For the first couple of years, I am just about the smallest child in school, and I have no idea how to communicate with all these people. They don't like my drawings and they don't care for my stories, except the teacher who always reads out my homework to the class.
I get beaten up so much that it makes me late for lessons. I hide in the classroom so I don't have to go to recess, which doesn't work out. Once I get thrown down the stairs to the boys' toilet. I tell a teacher and she only says: "What were you doing by the boys' toilet?"
Then I get punished for telling.
One day a girl squeezes my pack of orange juice so it squirts into my face. A teacher sees it and grabs both of us. She forces me to spray the rest of the juice onto the offending girl, then walks off.
I cry because I am really thirsty. Why did I have to lose all the juice? I would have just ignored that girl as usual. Everyone gets stuff sprayed in their face after all, and it wasn't even ink.
The worst thing I get beaten with is a stick of climbing roses. I have no idea who the boys are, they just happen to be passing and they have a thorny stick to use on someone, it just happens to be me.
Another time I have to lick someone's shoes.
Eventually, there are some smaller kids than me in school. I think that will improve matters, it turns out they are exactly the right height to punch me in the stomach really hard.
I never get to eat my lunch or keep any money that I carry. The usual thing is that they punch me, take what they want and tell me to count to a hundred. I would just give them the stuff without getting punched first but it doesn't seem to be an option.
I get told that I should stand up straight and smile more to make friends.
I smile at a boy who seems nice and he throws his backpack at my head hard enough to knock me down and make me see stars. I smile at him again, get up and go home, keeping my head high.
I learn to smile at them in a way that sometimes makes them stop.
I discover that sniffing Nutella makes me sick enough to stay home for a day. I have to put my nose right into the jar and breathe really deeply as long as I can while my mother is not looking. It makes me pale and dizzy just long enough for her to put me back to bed and go to work. Then I spend the day drawing and making up stories.
Life greatly improves, except that now I get bullied by a whole new range of kids who say I am pretending to be sick, no one can be sick that often.
I don't really care.
I am standing on my table on class as a punishment. The teacher cackles and screeches and points at me, saying: "Look, look, this is what a stupid girl looks like." She makes them all laugh and point. What I said is that there is only one kind of black. She was showing us a famous painting of a man in a golden helmet that is mostly dark, and she told us to notice the different shades of black. I say that there is only one black, the colour of no light at all. The rest are just very dark colours.
"Only one kind of black!" she screeches. "Ha ha haaa!"
Black, incidentally, is my family name. That's why I forgot that you don't speak up to this teacher.
Another day a child gives her a painting of a blue bird as a present. She holds it up and says to the class: "This painting is sadly wrong on two important counts. Firstly, birds do not fly with their legs dangling down. They tuck them up. Secondly, there are no blue birds in this country."
She makes us laugh at the wrong bird.
The girl who painted it silent. I want to say that there are blue birds in other countries, but this time I remember it's a bad idea to disagree about colours here.
I want to be friends with the tiny girl who throws a pose when she is made to stand on the table. "Look at her, the smallest girl in the whole school but all the boys have noticed you already", says the teacher. "Look at that girl, boys, you will be spending a lot of time with that one." The tiny girl laughs and curtsies.
I don't know how to make friends, though.
I give up the idea that school is for learning anything at all. I have no idea why I'm here.
Somehow I managed to get the attention of the Headmaster, who calls me a witch child. I snapped at him once when he grabbed the back of my jumper while I was running past. I hate it when people touch me without warning. He made a face like he had touched a turd, and is remembering me still. When he hands out worksheets, he makes sure to throw mine in my face, making a dry spitting noise.
I'm starting to think that it is my job in this place to get beaten up.
Sometimes I fight back, especially if someone won't let me go and can't be ignored. One boy claims he needed to get a rabies jab after school because they didn't fully believe that it wasn't a dog that attacked him.
I'm not going to write any novels about school, because I don't really know what school is like. My mind was elsewhere most of the time.
These days I'm fine with it all, with distance. Life is brilliant. I am what back then I was wishing hard I could be: an adult. And that's thoroughly wonderful. Nothing has ever been as rubbish as being a small school child. Sometimes I hear of children having bad times, often much worse than I did. It makes me feel sick and angry, especially if it's parents telling me about it - strangers on the train, telling me that their badly bullied children are "gutless wimps" who will "fail". They ask me for advice on how to toughen them up, seeing that I make books for children and thus "maybe understand these things". All I want to say is "No, I don't understand YOU. My parents helped me out whenever they realised what was going on. That's why I'm able to talk to you without biting you, I think." But I am not completely sure I can, so generally I just pretend I have to leave.
I'm going to stick with fantasy stories about anthropomorphic animals, which, incidentally, is exactly what I was making up when I was small.
I have loads of great memories of that.