A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an artist. I loved drawing and used to spend hours creating silly cartoons, my own versions of the Beano and Dandy. I also thought about becoming a musician – I played the oboe (badly) and had vague dreams of joining a national orchestra one day. Or perhaps I’d go into something science-y, like my parents.
The summer after I turned 13, I was on a family holiday in Somerset, and my parents decided to take me and my sister to the cinema. A film called Jurassic Park had just been released, and was getting rave reviews, so they wanted to see it. This was before Taunton had its giant Cineworld complex – we crammed into the tiny two-screen Plaza (which would be demolished just a year later) with about about 70 other people, and waited for the lights to go down.
Little did I know that, as that now-classic opening, with its pounding drum beat and sinister-sounding chorals, began, that my life was about to change forever.
Afterwards, I couldn’t stop thinking about the film, replaying every moment over and over in my head. The dramatic opening, and Muldoon’s cries of Shoot her! Shoooot her! — the wide shot of Isla Nubar’s jungle-flanked slopes as the helicopter approached – the moment Dr Grant and Dr Sattler saw the brontosaurus for the first time – the T-Rex – the velociraptors – I even began inventing new scenes, imagining what the island might be like years later, the ruins of the park overgrown with trees and creepers, its only inhabitants the dinosaurs that had been left behind when the people who brought them back to life fled. The film might only have been a couple of hours long, but I wanted to stay there forever.
There was only one solution. I had a small, yellow-covered reporter’s notebook with me, brand new, unused. In it, I began to write a sequel to Jurassic Park.
A few days after I’d started writing my story – which consumed my every waking moment; I’d’ve written it at mealtimes if my parents had let me – I was walking round to my grandmother’s house, which was near where we were staying, when a thought suddenly popped into my head, seemingly out of nowhere.
I’m going to be a novelist.
I remember that moment as clearly as if it was yesterday. I remember what I was wearing – a pink jumper, stripy waistcoat, dark blue leggings, pop socks and ankle boots (yeah, I wasn’t exactly the most fashion-conscious teenager). I remember where I was – on the pavement, halfway along the road, the air thick with the scent of the lavender blooming in someone’s front garden. I also remember deciding that I wasn’t going to tell anyone about this revelation, because it was mine, a delicious secret to keep hugged close so that reality couldn’t intrude and tell me, don’t be so stupid! You’ll need to get a proper job when you’re older. Writing’s far too much fun. Stop it at once! Thirteen-year-old me didn’t know much about the world, but she knew that if you told people about your dreams, nine times out of ten they’d fall over themselves to tell you how impossible and crazy they were. How it was better to do something practical. Something safe.
And back then, as now, I knew that I’d rather be eaten by a velociraptor than do safe.
The young novelist (oh, those trainers…)
My original copy of Jurassic Park, the novel, and the sequel I wrote in maths lessons
So, back at school, I kept my secret from all but a few close friends, finishing my novel in maths lessons with my notebook hidden under my work. Then I wrote another. And another. I kept writing through GCSEs and A Levels and a Foundation year at art college. The only time I stopped was for three torturous years during my degree – I didn’t want to, but I knew if I didn’t, I’d never get any work done. The day I put up my degree show, I went back to my student flat, turned on the computer and started again. It was like falling back into the arms of a long-lost love.
I didn’t know then how many more years of hard work I’d have in front of me before I got an agent – 5 – or before I got my first book deal – 9 – but it wouldn’t have stopped me if I had. Finally, almost 20 years to the day since I sat in that tiny, crowded cinema in Taunton, watching as the opening credits of Jurassic Park began to roll, I got to hold my first published novel in my hand.
I wonder what 13-year-old me, that girl in the slightly dodgy clothes with a head full of dreams and a heart full of hope, would think if I could go back and tell her about it. I like to think she’d be excited, and proud of what her future self had achieved, too.
Because, to paraphrase Ian Malcom, she, uh, found a way.
Emma Pass has been making up stories for as long as she can remember. Her debut novel, dystopian thriller ACID, is out now and was the winner of the 2014 North East Teenage Book Award. It was followed by THE FEARLESS, another stand-alone thriller for young adults, in April 2014. By day, she works as a library assistant and lives with her husband and dog in the North East Midlands.
Great post, Emma! Bea
What a good reminder that things you don’t consider to be that big (going to the cinema for example) can end up changing the rest of your life. Great that you followed your dreams, even though it took time 🙂
Thank you, Bea!
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