One of the women who inspired me actually didn’t inspire me much at all. Rather, she harangued me, harassed me, embarrassed me and told me I was a fool.
This was my history teacher in Year 12. I’d never been a big fan of history at school. It was taught by boring people and was all about the facts. There was nothing exciting, none of the blood and guts, none of the terror, the torture, the glory, the great love and devotion that could be the study of history.
I’d spent most of my school years fudging it. I hated studying and memorizing facts, so I learnt the mastery of waffling. I’d tell stories rather than facts. Fill in a page describing just how it felt in the trenches, because I had no date in mind, no names. I really was very lazy.
I did well along the way. My stories were exciting, and full of descriptive detail so it sounded like I knew what I was talking about. They must have made a nice change for the teachers reading them.
Then came Year 12 and this teacher. I can’t actually remember her name, which I feel bad about.
She read my first essay. I was very proud of it; I’d filled three pages or more with a graphic description of a Chinese gold miner, including (if I remember correctly) the sweat on his brow and the smell of his incense. I expected an A. Perhaps a B, if the teacher was in a bad mood.
F. The woman failed me. She wrote across it, “I want more than this, Waffles Warren.” She really did. She called me Waffles Warren, and she continued to call me Waffles until I stopped waffling and knuckled down. Until I wrote something of actual substance.
It took a while. But when I got my first A from her, I knew I’d done something good.
Strangely enough, I never waffled while writing fiction. Looking back at my first short story, and the novel I wrote when I was 14 to 16, it’s as sheared back as the fiction I write today. I think that’s because in fiction I know what I want to say. I don’t have to waffle to fill the page.
These days, I’m fascinated by history. I grab copies of BBC History magazine and others whenever I can, loving the detail and the way you can trace NOW from THEN.
One of the things I think about is the people who play a small but vital role in history. Was it the tealady who took the poisoned cup of tea into Alexander Litvinenko’s hotel room? Che Guevera was arrested carrying a aluminium tin with six eggs in it. I want to know; who gave him the eggs? Did they love him? Fear him? Was he saving those eggs to eat when he safe, and he was never safe again?
Who sewed Franz Ferdinand into his clothes that day?
I think women play these roles very often. They are often unseen in the pages of history, yet they are what keep things together, make them function, and move the human story forward.
Those are the stories I want to hear.