There are many reasons that I wanted to be a writer. Many formative experiences, both positive and negative, that put me on this creative path. I shall look at some of these in future posts, but one concerns a cereal box.
It was 1984. I was nine years old and eating Weetabix at the kitchen table. On the back of the box was an advertisement proclaiming “FREE BOOKS”. I grew up dirt poor, so at the time the word “FREE” was emotive and eye-catching. My surroundings were not exactly cultured either and so the house was not blessed with many - if any – books. It was probably the reason I was reading a cereal box. The box promised what it called a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book in exchange for returned tokens. Over time I diligently cut out and collected the tokens: upon sending them off I received the promised book.
I fell in love with these books immediately. They were inviting and accessible, telling a story but regularly confronting the reader with decisions to make and different pages to turn to in order to continue the narrative. Rather than involving a pencil or dice as adventure gamebooks did later, ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books were more book than game. Choices and their outcomes were informed by reason and driven by curiosity, removing the element of chance. One of my favourites was a spy adventure called ‘The Deadly Shadow’ by Richard Brightfield. In the book you had to track a literal human time bomb called Dimitrius across the globe. Keeping Dimitrius out of the hands of enemy agents, it was a race against time to prevent this living weapon from detonating with the power of an atomic bomb.
The most formative aspect of this experience, however, wasn’t the fun story or the 80s illustrations: it was the decision making. Along with other events and influences, it helped to flick a switch in me. I no longer approached literature as an enjoyable but primarily passive experience. I revelled in the active nature of choosing. I liked the control and soon I wanted more. I wanted control not only of the decisions but also their outcomes, the characters, settings and the very twists and turns of the plot itself. The way I viewed literature had changed. I enjoyed books as a reader, but now I thought like a writer.