Yesterday I found myself in the pretty medieval city of Winchester with a lot of time on my hands so, after daydreaming my way through the best part of the day, I sat down by the River Itchen and wrote for a few hours.
Afterwards I went for a walk and noticed some piles of colourful books on a table in the Guildhall. The author was Cathy Cassidy and there were big signs up saying “Welcome Cathy Cassidy!”
I had never heard of Cathy Cassidy. It happens to me a lot these days that I’ve never heard of someone who is apparently famous. I’ve often wanted to write a story about a fictional character who is a famous pop singer or a famous actor and have resisted the idea because (notwithstanding Jackie Collins’s glittering career) it would seem odd to write about someone who is apparently famous but of whom the readers have never heard. So I find it reassuring to know that there are lots of famous people in the world who are nevertheless completely unknown to me.
While I was looking at the preparations for the arrival of this apparently famous author, I had a daydream for a story about a middle-aged man who had a chance encounter with her in a little Hampshire town. His life was changed as a result. Her words inspired him to stop daydreaming and write the novel he’d always known he had it in him to write.
So, I decided to do a little research. I asked the organisers who she was and and I bought a ticket for the event. I leafed through her books and I took my place in the audience.
“I’m here to teach you to daydream,” she said. “And I want you to never let go of your dreams because even if you don’t achieve them when you are 12, or 20 or 30, those dreams never really go away. But if you never give up, one day you will achieve them. My dream was to write a novel and, believe me, when my first novel was published and I held the bright shiny book in my hands, it was worth the wait. It was definitely worth the wait.”
Hmmm, I thought. This is too good to be true. I can’t just take these words and put them in my story. That would be like stealing.
“Authors are like magpies,” she continued. “We pick up bright shiny objects wherever we find them and we put them in our stories. And none of you are safe. After I’ve signed your book I want you to sign my book. Because that’s how I get the names for my characters.”
Okay, I thought. Fair game.
Then she told us how she was inspired to write her latest novel about a Polish girl in England, after reading the account by a real Polish girl of her first day at school here.
Her character was called Anya. I’ve also written a story about a Polish girl called Anya. (Actually, nearly all Polish girls living in England are called Anya.)
One day, maybe my story will be read by someone other than myself and I will also know what it’s like to hold in my hands a bright shiny object that encapsulates my dream.