I’m rather upset. I’ve had this blog rattling around my head for a while now, but it required a visit to the loft to find a certain element to photograph and include. So I finally went up there at the weekend, went to the box where said element should have been in… and it wasn’t there. Random and rather manic searching elsewhere proved fruitless. So what prompted this search, and what was the item that has mysteriously disappeared out of its box? Well. In a battered old Body Shop notebook dating back to the mid-1990s, which contains (amongst other things) the random scribbled ideas for the first Shed story, is the following line:
‘Why did the yellow teddy get left in the shed?’
Are you there yet? No? Want another minute or two? Okay…
Now? Good. Yes, I was looking for the yellow teddy. It’s rather a sad old yellow teddy. Quite small, and rather… square looking. It had a squeaker in it. At some point in my very small life, this yellow teddy went missing. I must have been very small, too small to remember it going missing. Or maybe it wasn’t a very well-loved teddy, so its missing-ness wasn’t that important. Hope not, that’s a terrible thought.
Anyway, when I was a bit bigger, a momentous occasion occured: The Pulling Down of The Shed Day. This shed was, quite possibly, one of the bestest, most wonderfullest of sheds ever in the entire world. Ever. My dad might have built it from scratch. It had been painted white at some point, but by the time The Pulling Down of The Shed Day came around, it was a bit fadey. Step One was to get everything out of the shed into the garden, and it was during this mammoth task that the yellow teddy was found. To be absolutely honest, I’ve no idea if it was mine or my sisters. But when it was found, I remember feeling extremely sorry for it (having been left amongst the cobwebs down the back of the workbench for so long) and rather sad and guilty – I also remember only vaguely remembering it, and feeling bad about that too. Actually, now I think about, maybe it wasn’t even ours – maybe it belonged to some friend of ours… oh dear. Sorry.
But it was given a wash by mum (and probably pegged out on the washing line by its ears), and I know I’ve seen it recently.
But where is it?
And why is it important?
Well, it’s just that in the shed stories, the main character has a small yellow bear. It doesn’t get a lot of attention in the stories, and it has no lines (being a teddy, obviously, which can’t speak. Unlike elephants. And lions. And vultures. And zebras. Which – obviously – can). But it’s The Bear! And I can’t find it! And it was lost for years once before, and now it’s lost again!
I’m sure you can all feel my pain. I’m too upset now to carry on, change of subject required…
Sir Terry Pratchett. Chiswick Book Festival. If I don’t get tickets there’ll be serious tears. Please, please cross your fingers for me… The thought of even possibly being in the same room as Him sends me rather bonkers, let alone the possibility of hearing him speak (or hearing someone speak on his behalf) and even (faint!) getting the latest Tiffany Aching book signed by him… Ooooooh, I can barely type!
I have five major writing heroes. Two are sadly no longer with us – Roald Dahl and Charles Dickens. Of the remaining three, I’ve seen ONE in the flesh and it blew me away, and was an indescribable inspiration. That was John Irving in the mid-1990s, reading from the newly published ‘A Son of the Circus’ in Waterstones in Hampstead, London. Every John Irving book I’ve read (or re-read – and believe me, I do a lot of re-reading) since has been spoken in his voice – if you get what I mean. And I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been so terrified and nervous as when I was standing in the queue to get my copy signed. I had in my head a line of his I was going to ask him to write (if I dared), but as I got nearer and nearer his desk, I became aware that every person – with no exception – was asking him to write the same thing. If you know your Irving, you’ll have guessed what it was…
‘Keep passing the open windows.’
How could it have been anything else?
So I panicked. ‘My god,’ I thought, ‘This poor man has been sitting here all evening writing the same thing over and over again… he must need a break! I can’t possibly ask him to write that again!’
Then suddenly it was my turn.
I was standing at a desk, looking down at John Irving. John Irving. JOHN IRVING!!! The guy that wrote Garp, and The Water Method Man, and The Hotel New Hampshire, and OWEN FLIPPIN’ MEANY!!!
The guy that has the power to write things that make me laugh and cry and stay up all night turning page after page after page… even if I’m reading the book for the umpteenth time… the guy that was the inspiration to me to start trying to write…
The next few seconds went like this:
Mr Irving: Hello, [nice friendly smile] what would you like me to write?
(are you ready for this?)
Me: [in a very small and silly, wobbly voice] To Michelle.
So he did. And I left.
Pathetic, isn’t it?!
But it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and said book is – and always will be – one of my most treasured possessions. Look, here’s the cover sheet:
And in case you’re wondering, the other two living writers on my hero list are Sir Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. If I am lucky enough to get tickets for Sir Terry, goodness knows what a plonker of myself I’ll make if I get the chance to get a book signed… I’m cringing just thinking about it… but it will be so worth it… wow…
I hate to mention it, but it’s a black-bin Tuesday so I have a little job to do…
ps… the observant amongst you will be thinking ‘Michelle? I thought her name was Rose?’