Love at first word. My first word was ‘home’, and that word has stuck with me ever since. Home is where the heart is, and for me, that is in a story. Delving into the details of a glorious tale, untold until that time, able to be torn apart and examined, investigated to find the very fabrics of reality within, like candy in the wrapper, delectable with exquisite decadence. The ability to find that one piece within is that of a true writer; it sticks out like a pebble on pavement; not belonging, yet somehow it appears, and a true writer needs to know why.

Everything that ever is or was, started with a story, and there is no story unless there is someone willing to listen. I first told a story when I was five years old. I was in trouble, I knew it, because I had run through the living room with muddy feet and left a wonderful patchy trail. In an attempt to avoid being quietly scolded by the mere disappointment from my mother, I thought up a tale.

“Well, mummy, it was the goblin, Frank, chasing me. He was a big goblin, with furry feet and an ugly nose. He chased Colin and me,” I said to her, with my face red from the white lie that was at the time pure genius in my mind, sure to get me out of the muck.

“Colin?” My mother asked, incredulous. There was no one she knew by the name of Colin. No, he was a secret.

“The little man from my sock,” I said.

Looking back, I realize how insane my thoughts might have been. A little man in my sock, Irish and small, like an elf with the tiny green hat and the pointy ears. He was as real to me as my own brother, and sometimes, I wished a little more so.

Those thoughts had transformed into visions, imaginary friends that helped me through some of the most traumatic experiences of my young life. I’d have to be in hospital for months on end, sometimes yearly. The one thing that had never failed me during these times was my dreams. My tales. My home. The bubble of imagination never left; it only blossomed and allowed me to share so much love. Love with words.

Late at night, I would tell tales of scary witches, telling the other children in the ward that we were trapped in there and needed to escape. I guess it was my way of expressing my dislike for the nurses and their pointy objects that I had to envision them with pointy noses and warts all over. It was an escape from reality for us. We were the heroes battling the great demons, sometimes internal demons actualized, sometimes merely for the fun of creating yet another adventure past the pale, dim walls of the children’s ward. We replaced the chemotherapy and radiotherapy, far gone in our bodies, with the poisons the witches were brewing for us, if we were unable to escape.

My first written story was of Colin the elf, a poem that I have shared with my young sister, a writer-to-be (if I can help it). This is possibly the most treasured piece of work I have ever produced. I wrote in pencil, and I’ll never forget the immense pleasure of holding the scrap up to my mum’s eyeballs and reading aloud to my family and friends. Even though it was amateur at best, it was words on paper; it was the love of my life. I had found a passion on my own, my own adventure.

Writing has opened many doors to me. It has enabled me to procrastinate doing many important things as I wistfully take a train to nowhere for that glimpse of inspiration and hours of writing on napkins, the backs of menus and really anything with a patch of space. In times of trial, I write. In times of fear and discomfort, I return home. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and my characters come forth. I write because I love it. I love it because it is who I am, deep down. I am a riddle, and as I write, I get piece by piece of finding out my own story. I’m writing it as I go along.

However, writing has also allowed another thing. Expression. In the Christchurch earthquake on 22 February 2011, two days before my thirteenth birthday, I felt my world crumble. I sat in one room on a mattress with my sister, cold, scared and worried for the future. It was then that I remembered the strong, fighting girl whose only problem was the wicked witches and their boiling cauldrons. I remembered she found her strength by telling stories, and by writing them. So, together, my sister and I wrote a story of a storm that flew into the city and caused many troubles, but that the city would eventually be OK, because two sisters had biscuits and tea and a pencil with paper. With those, they could rebuild everything with their words. They could write strength. They could write love. Love at first word. Home.

journalism writing excerpts

Image credit: Flickr.com_Jacqueline Torres Lopez