What was Serina Hartwell like as a child? – Now there’s a question.
I grew up in a mill town, which I talk about in more detail in my page on mills in the Hidden section of my websites WordPress and Blogger. They were dotted around the place I lived, in fact, there were so many that you couldn’t go anywhere without coming across one on your journey. The street I lived in was like a little oasis in a sea of industrial buildings. It was my whole world as a child and my playground. Today I watch my own kids growing up and feel a sense of regret, because they never played out like I did as a child. Their childhoods were a lot different, simply because society changed. Despite my encouragement, things moved on. My low tech football and skipping rope could never compete with a piece of electronic gadgetry. As my children grew up, more and more of their toys included technology, taking them away from the fresh air, the rain and fields of fun.
I treasure my sheltered childhood. I experienced a freedom that doesn’t seem to exist anymore for inner city children. I was a child of great imagination, naturally, as you would expect of a writer. My childhood memories of school were of getting caught daydreaming constantly. Every school report had – ‘She has done well this year, but must not become complacent and she must not daydream in class.’ I have very mixed emotions about daydreaming, I must admit. My primary and middle school were so important to me. I loved going to school. I loved every minute of it. I thrived and worked as hard as I could, and even left my middle school with the Headmaster’s prize. A prize awarded to just one student out of the whole school. I still have it now. I was given an encyclopedia for all my hard work. My downfall was when it came to long spiels. The parent in me today shouts, ‘you should have concentrated more in school,’ but I don’t really regret it for a minute.
The mixed emotions I talked about earlier are simple. In order to be a writer, you have to have a great imagination, but to be a writer, you often find that your personality leads you to be a daydreamer. The problem I found was while the teacher was teaching me how to punctuate a sentence and use correct grammar, I had a tendency to daydream. Luckily, I found that the grammar worked its way in via osmosis, but because I was daydreaming in class and not paying as much attention to the finer detail of punctuation (the thing I was less interested in, because I was never going to use it again, right?), when I came to writing my book, I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning. It’s taken a lot of work to self-teach myself in order to get my book out, which is the downside. I’m getting there slowly. I still make silly mistakes and can’t spell for love nor money, but three years of solid practice is bound to improve you.
I was always surrounded by a solid set of friends, as a child. I had the best set of friends anyone could ask for and I’m still in touch with most of them now, in some shape or form. I remember my brother and me playing out for hours and our dad coming out to call us in. Of course we would always push the boundary as far as we could. He could never get us in on the first attempt. Gradually we found the middle ground with him. He was a fare man. The first call we treated like a warning for a request that was to follow. The second was the request that we chose to ignore, but we knew that by the third request, we had to go in. Any requests after that put dad in a bad mood for the rest of the evening. He knew this, and although he always put on a show for us, he always forgave us.
A number of my friends didn’t even live on the street. They came to visit their Grandparents. I remember some of my fondest memories coming from being allowed to play, when it rained, in Mark’s Grandmother’s garage. I don’t know to this day why it had a carpet down in there, maybe it was being stored, or perhaps she put it there for us to play on, but that carpet took us around the whole universe. It was a magic carpet flying over an arid desert, the inside of a spaceship, an island in the middle of an ocean, among many other things. About half a dozen kids, or more, all piled on that carpet that curled up at the edges with me and we had a whale of a time. To this day, I put a lot of my storytelling beginnings down to playing with my friends.
I remember that at the top of the street, there was a bunch of trees. They weren’t very tall, more shrub like than tree, but they had all grown into one another leaving a hollow inside. Of course as children, we saw this as our den and it became another great source of fun and excitement, which I cherish to this day.
When you read Hidden, you will be able to read a lot about my childhood. When I wrote about Bronte and Riley, I drew upon these precious memories. Although Bronte’s story isn’t a like for like for my own, you do get a feel for what it was like for me growing up and the solid friendships I had with friends. I set the book in the place I grew up. It’s just unfortunate that the place has changed a lot since I left many years ago, but its essence still lives on in my memories. I have tried to do it justice in my writing, to let a little bit of it live on, in my book.
I feature a tree in The Hidden Saga, called Nelson. Nelson is based on a tree that stood by the river at the top of the street where I lived as a child, although our tree didn’t have a name. We used to play around it, on the beck beach, as children. It marked the boundary of the limit of where we were allowed to play when we were small, because it was on the path that led up the side of the river to the waterfall and to the village beyond where the grand mill that my mother used to work at, stood. Of course as children, as you get older, you push those boundaries and play where you shouldn’t anyway and I have to admit that we didn’t do it as often as we probably could have done, but sorry mum and dad, we did. I will hang my head in shame. However, in my defense, if we hadn’t, I may never have written this book.
A bypass was run through the top of our street and our tree managed to survive, but there was no protest to save it, we didn’t need to. It escaped by meters, it lived in the right place. I visited it when I was taking photos for my book cover for Hidden with my daughter ‘Crazytooner’, who designed the cover for me. There is still a swing there, hanging from its biggest branch. That tree must have a tale to tell. It saw all my generation, plus the older kids who used to dominate it when we were young. Who knows how many others have treated it as their own and claimed it for themselves? Today there is a new generation of children coming through and the cycle begins again. I think that tree will see us all out.
Serina Hartwell – Author of The Hidden Saga
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