I have been having to do a bit of soul-searching lately. Well, more of a soul audit really. I’m in a real muddle, stuck here surrounded by all these cans of worms I have opened and can’t close again. It all looks as chaotic as my Tupperware cupboard, as if I need to just stand bouncer like at the door saying ‘if you’ve not got a lid, you’re not going in’. But as my friend Dan would say, I need to just deal with them all One Tin At A Time.
One of the things I have been thinking about is why I do, well, whatever it is I do. There are lots of reasons, but I thought I would start with one of them. When thinking about why I started writing, I remembered that I first picked up my pen, and it was a pen, after years and years to write a children’s story, a fairy story. The thing was written long hand, on scraps of paper in what was to become my chair in the pub. I have decided to share it here, with the beautiful illustrations of Lisa Peterrson, but I will say a few words about it first.
When my beautiful niece was three years old it was discovered that she had a massive brain tumour. She had to undergo months of hideous, hideous treatment. She lost a lot of her movement and speech. She used to like to pick flowers every day and my whole family became local menaces, nicking them from people’s gardens if they were the ones she wanted. If you asked her how she was she would always say ‘good’. She had a real sense of purpose. Day in day out, I have to pick these flowers, and I have loving to do, and being loved to do, so I’ll hang on in there.
I remember when she was in hospital or being cared for at home being struck by the thought that you could actually see love. It was something visible, it had a life of its own and it was very much in action in all of us. But in no-one more than my sister. I had a real sense that what I could see in her was the most powerful force in the world. She is a tiny woman, much smaller than me, but she seemed possessed by some kind of gargantuan strength, to keep loving, to keep caring, to keep going. They put a punch-bag up in her garage for her to hit but she knocked it clean out of its fastenings.
I learned more from my niece and my sister at that time than I have ever learned from anything. This belief in the wisdom and importance of children, and the powerful force of loving them, underpins everything I do. The belief in love as transformative, strong and fearless, always challenging, and with a life of its own.
I wrote this story for my sister to read to my niece Katie. The minister read it at her funeral too and we all held hands and tried to feel a little love magic. She died on December 4th 2012 aged four.
The It’s-Not-Fair Fairy
Once upon a time, in a far-away, far-away kingdom, in a magical garden hidden away in the corner of an enchanted forest, lived a fairy princess. The princess had a lovely mummy and daddy, the Fairy Queen and King, and lots of lovely brothers and sisters, the other fairy princes and princesses, but she was not happy. Something really, really horrid had happened to her. She had lost a lot of her magic. One of her fairy wings did not work. Her fairy feet were all wobbly. And when she opened her mouth to say her spells, sometimes the words didn’t come out how she wanted. She felt sad and angry and frustrated because she could not fly with the other fairies, or run with them on her wobbly feet, and she was tired of people not understanding when she tried to say her spells.
And she was frightened, because sometimes her wings were sore and sometimes her tummy felt yucky and sometimes she just didn’t feel right.
“It’s not fair!” she said one day to her fairy queen mummy.
“No, it’s not fair,” said her mummy. “It is definitely not fair at all. If mummy or anyone in the whole kingdom could make it better, we would, and we are so sad that no one can fix this.”
“I’m sad too,” said the fairy princess. “I have tried to be brave but I have had enough.”
“I know you have,” said the fairy queen. “No one can be brave all the time, and you don’t have to be. You just have to remember that you still have the most powerful magic of all, the kind of magic that will never run out and which no one can take away: and that is love.”
“What does that mean?” asked the fairy princess.
“Well,” replied her mummy, “love is the most special of all the kinds of magic. Love is the magic that puts the sparkle in the dew drops. Love is the magic that puts the colours in the rainbow. Love is the magic that puts the scent in all the flowers, and when the birds sing their songs, they sing them because of the magic of love. You have love because mummy and daddy, and everyone who meets you, loves you, and nothing will ever change that.”
“But how does that help me?” asked the fairy princess.
“Oh darling,” said her mummy, “I’m not sure if anything mummy can tell you can really help. There are lots of people who believe that this is only one tiny kingdom, in one tiny garden, in one corner of a huge forest, and that somewhere there is another kingdom where everyone who has lost their magic will find it, and where everyone who has been sad will be happy, and where all of us will dance together again. Maybe when you are sad you can think about that. Or maybe you could remember your love magic and it might help you when you are learning to fly or run again if you feel frightened. You could use it like a spell and say “I fly a little… I fly with love. I walk a little… I walk with love. I dance a little… I dance with love.”
The fairy princess looked a little unsure. “Maybe…” she said, “but I am just so tired.”
“I know you are tired,” said the fairy queen. “Just try a little at a time when you feel that you can.”
And so the fairy princess wobbled sometimes, and stumbled sometimes, and sometimes she muddled her spells. But when she felt frustrated and tired of trying she looked out across the flower meadows and smiled a little smile to herself because she had a little secret. She knew that she still had the most powerful magic of all, and that she had the love that was putting the sparkle in the dew drops and the colours in the rainbow and the scent in every flower in the garden, and that every time she heard the birds singing they were singing just for her.