Nostalgia Smells Musty

I’m about to hit the finishing stages of Phase II house renovations. The builders have left, snagging completed and I am now the proud owner of acres of newly plastered walls, ceilings and panelling. All of which has to be decorated by my own fair hand.

In preparation I started to clear and tidy the boxroom where I will store all the decorating materials. This is quite literally a box room – packed full of…yep, you’ve got it…boxes. Stuff that when I moved 18 months ago I’ve never unpacked. It’s a slow process because being a go-with-the-flow type of gal (i.e. lazy besom), I never actually labelled the boxes. So, it was inevitable that I got delayed in my clearing task by poking around in the contents of each box.

I came across a rather tatty box file and inside were yellowing pages of typescript. Each set of pages was neatly pinned together with one of those gold-coloured paper fasteners. The paper curled up at the corners and had a musty-mousy odour; the typescript was faint and peppered with handwritten corrections. Clearly I was a hunt-and-peck typist in those days for these were my first literary outpourings from 30-odd years ago when I decided I would write for a living.

Ah yes, I remember it well – the summer of 1976; drought and a heatwave in the UK, of a type never seen since. I was taking a year off work to establish myself as a writer thanks to the indulgence (and not a little condescension)from my now ex-husband. Every morning I sat at the kitchen table banging out stories and articles on my little blue Olivetti.

Rejection after rejection followed yet never daunted me – the optimism of youth! I got hold of an old copy of the Writers and Artists Year book and I’m sure I must have approached every literary agent in the listings, sending them shovel-loads of my work. Of course it was all returned with stiff little notes – now stashed at the bottom of the box. I picked up one from an agent who was obviously frustrated and irritated with me, for her note, scrawled on a compliments slip read “where do you expect me to sell this material? There is no market for it.”

Last night I read some of the stuff I’d written. Most of it was horrible; short stories trying but failing ingloriously to be some sort of hybrid Somerset Maugham and Guy de Maupassant – both of whom I still rate as short story writers. Quite clearly I hadn’t found my own “voice” and from the tenor of many of the rejection notes the literary world hoped I never would.

Nevertheless I have a fondness for the person who wrote this stuff – the person I was then. I wouldn’t choose to go back in time and become her all over again. My wrinkles have been hard earned and I don’t care for repeats. Do I wish I knew then what I know now? Nope – the joy of life is in playing the game as it is served – aces, mis-hits, net cords and all.

So what to do with this file of youthful indiscretions? Keep it? Stash it away again? Put it out for recycling?

Haven’t decided yet, but I’m having a bonfire at the weekend. Perhaps it’ll be the Bonfire of the Vanities?