My family home hasn’t changed for decades. Maybe it’s a sign of my parents’ nostalgia, but you won’t find spritzed and neutral guest quarters in their house – my bedroom is more or less the same as when I left it. The bookcases creak with pony club paperbacks and college texts, Daniel Deronda sharing shelf space with Arthur Ransome, Le Morte d’Arthur nudging up against a book of fairy spells. My old typewriter sits on the window sill. I remember being a lousy typist and in the end I got fed up of spending my pocket money on eraser ribbon and went back to my notebooks and blobbing fountain pens. And behold this for vanity: In the kitchen, a piece of my writing still hangs framed on the wall, approximately twenty five years after I decided it’d make the perfect birthday present for my mum. It’s a piece I wrote at primary school when we were set the task of describing the houses we lived in. I wrote about our Devon cottage, huddling under its thatch on the side of a hill. I noted the crumbled patch of wall where I leant my bike, a head of straw poking through the cob. I mentioned the quiet corner, where beneath a spindly apple tree our old cat is buried.
But despite the copious books, the tools of the trade, the celebrated, um, early works… it’s when I go into the garden of my childhood that I remember all over again why being a writer was always the right thing for me. The garden was the place where I dreamt up my stories, where I slipped into worlds of my own making. It wasn’t the biggest patch of land but it felt like it, the way it ran in a slope that gathered speed, the edges of the earth falling away into the neighbouring field. The way the hillside opposite seemed to be in touching distance, but really lay beyond a line of gangly birches, a twisting lane and a knee-deep stream. I’d stay out in my garden until darkness fell and the foxes started barking in the high woods, and, come morning, I’d be the first to dance away the lawn’s dew. Sometimes I kicked a football or batted around a shuttlecock, built a den or a bike assault course, but mostly I spent my time exploring; my feet treading the same old ground, my mind somewhere else altogether. My mum used to open a window and call out ‘are you talking to yourself?’ I’d shake my head, then pick up the story where I’d left off.
This Christmas, upon my return, the garden was etched out by winter. Old sweet corn stems stood cracked and white. A new crop of leeks persisted messily. Long rotted apples were scattered like billiard balls. The birches had lost their leaves and the distance hillside seemed closer than ever. So too, did my memories of a childhood spent roaming the edges of a page. Plucking words from thin air. Travelling, ad infinitum, in my garden of verse.