Be Brave, Go in to the Woods

I lost my courage around the age of 9. The real world stepped up like a policeman to my childish imaginings and said:

'Allo 'allo 'allo. What's going on here then?

It wasn't a sudden process, more a gradual pulling of the rug from under my feet. I was slipped into line. Discouraged from thinking for myself. Up until this moment, I had believed all things were possible. The tree on the Arbour was my space-ship. A tent pitched up beyond the swings was my springboard for any adventure I cared to go on. There were no spanners in the works of who I thought I could be.

Then the life-police stepped in. I began to tread more slowly. I became cautious, quiet. The process of being shaped from the outside had begun. No more shaping myself from within.

Everyone has to have a label. It's tidier that way. Easier

This is not a sob story. This is simply the truth of what so many of us experience when it comes to our emerging sense of self. Picture the unfettered wonder of the child, the fully whirring curiosity, the willingness to believe in the stuff of magic. Then measure this up against the world outside, the: this is the way things are, and this is your place in it. This world says: we'll give you a label. Because everyone has to have a label. It's tidier that way. Easier.

There I was, shoved in the drawer of Unremarkables, an Average label firmly tied around my neck. For most of my school years, this is where I stayed. Not asking questions, not testing those who knew better – being nice and easy and compliant.

There I was, shoved in the drawer of Unremarkables, an Average label firmly tied around my neck

Being shoved where you don't belong eventually leads to trouble. I did things that I shouldn't have done, on the quiet. I started to ask awkward questions, to disagree with the status quo. I began to think that just because someone says something's right, it doesn't make it so – not one little bit of it. I began to trust my gut instinct, listened to what lived in my heart. If anyone should know what sort of person I was, surely that person was me. I became bloody-minded – a sort of masquerade for belief in myself.

The off-road route that I chose has been bumpier than it might otherwise have been had I stayed up on the tarmacked road. There have been a couple of deep potholes that almost swallowed me whole. And I'm still there, revving along in my dented, mud-splattered trusty vehicle (I like to think this is a campervan, probably a split-screen) trying to grab back the lost essence of myself.

Take a torch and shine it in to the very darkest of corners, tell us what you find, tell us the truth

So when I went to my first SCBWI conference in Winchester last week, when I heard the speakers talk, I felt I'd found the place I'd left all those years ago. Cathy Cassidy, Nick Butterworth, and Sally Gardner – their words took me firmly by the hand and led me back to where I was at the age of 9.  Look! They implored. See what you can find out there. Keep looking until it feels right. Ask as many questions as you like – all the What Ifs. Take a torch and shine it in to the very darkest of corners, tell us what you find, tell us the truth. Only then will you be able to show yourself, to show us, how to find the way out. Be that child who was always willing to have a go, to make something out of nothing. Believe in yourself. Go deep in to the forest of fairy-tales. Take your courage with you.

Don't Forget
Monday's Interview with Sally Gardner by Karen J. Hart – if you weren’t able to get along to the conference, then do check out the invaluable insights from this most acclaimed of authors
Tuesday's Fabulous round-up of the blogs by Nick, from thoughts of the conference to the experience of taking part in Inktober
Wednesday's Interview with Cathy Cassidy by Emma Greenwood – pull up a chair and pour yourself a cup of tea, settle down to read this wonderful insight in to Cathy’s celebrated writing world
Thursday's Very warm welcome to Karen Hart - our new Assistant Regional Advisor with a special responsibility for members services 
Friday's Fabulous Featured Illustrator, W&P very own John Shelley
Saturday's Celebration of W&P Anne-Marie Perks, who has won this year's SCBWI British Isles Outstanding Contribution Award  

Nancy Saunders is gradually stepping in as the new Editor of W&P, with a generous helping hand from Jan. You can find her short stories here, and on Twitter @nancyesaunders


  1. Here's to shaking off the life-police and labels! Lovely to meet you at the SCBWI party last weekend, Nancy :)

    Jenny Moore

    1. Thank you, lovely to meet you too Jenny! Look forward to the next time :-)

  2. This is very moving, Nancy, thank you.

  3. I totally agree about our paths being dictated by the education system. I think the greatest challenge for any child is to maintain aspirations and direction through teen years, I wonder if it's any easier today? I think writers and illustrators can count ourselves as the luck ones though. It was great to see you at the Conference Nancy!

    1. Good question, John. And really great to see you too!

  4. Nancy, I loved meeting you at the conference. If you haven't read Maggot Moon, it's a deeply personal story you might love...but a rather difficult read. Isn't it nice to know there are so many like-minded Scoobies, all of us putting ourselves back together again? Better than all the king's horses and all the king's men!

    1. Thanks Sheila, very well put! It was splendid to meet you too. I have indeed read Maggot Moon, and I, Coriander - both incredible reads. Soon to read Tinder too.

  5. A thought provoking piece Nancy. I'm glad you found your way back into the forest.

    1. Many thanks, Hot Frog. It's good in the forest...I think I shall keep going, deeper & deeper :-)

  6. I'm liking your editorials very much, Nancy. I'm not averse to shining a light in the dark places myself (heaven knows I have plenty of them...)

    1. Cheers Nick! All the best people have a goodly shading of the best possible sense, of course...


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