My First Novel by Nat Luurtsema
When I was about eight I overheard something about myself. I overheard something no child should ever hear about themselves, as it causes such lasting emotional, behavioural damage.
I was drying my hands in my little primary school toilet, while my mum and my teacher chatted outside, by an open window. “Of course, the thing with Natalie,” my teacher said…and my narcissistic little ears swiveled like satellites..
“…The thing with Natalie is that she’s just so gifted. She’s exceptionally clever.”
My mind was blown. Then a moment later, the shrapnel of my exploded mind exploded all over again when my mum agreed. She agreed in casual tones that suggested this was an acknowledged, accepted fact of life, something that everyone knew. I never knew! No one had ever told me!
For good reason.
Mum took me home and I was floating on a Cloud of Special. I ate fish fingers and baked beans for my tea but everything was different. Because I was exceptionally clever. I ate my beans thoughtfully, chewing slowly, processing everything through my – I now realized – MASSIVE brain.
The next day, I hurried into school. I didn’t have time to play before the bell, I needed to get on the class computer. I had spent a sleepless night realizing the pressures that come with being so special. I needed to DO something, I needed everyone to realize how super-clever I was or else what was the point? What’s the point in being or doing anything unless people see it and praise it? I wasn’t going to be some pointless tree falling in an empty wood, no thanks.
I was going to write a novel.
So for the next six weeks of summer term I spent every break time hammering away on the class computer – “NO, YOU CANNOT PLAY PONG, MATTHEW, I. AM. WORKING!”
I still remember the thrill of hard work, of building a world in my mind, I could see everything so clearly! I felt for the first time the awesome power of being a writer, of concealing things from the reader then delighting them with surprises and revelations, terrifying them with mystery and danger.
The sun shone outside, everyone else played Knicker Chase, but I was miles away, in the sea, in a workshop, in a whale!
I will never forget those golden six weeks when I first wrote, when I first appreciated all the magic locked away in my brain, waiting to be discovered.
And I will never forget the kindness of my teacher when she squeezed my little arm and said maybe I shouldn’t read my novel to the class, as I wanted. Because she was very proud of all my hard work and thought I had a lot of potential… but I had spend six weeks writing Pinocchio.
I had written Disney’s Pinocchio, pretty much word-for-word. She said I had a wonderful memory, but this wasn’t how writing worked. I had to make up my OWN stories, you see?
I went home, sniveling, and berated my mother for not telling me I was exceptionally clever before, how could she keep that from me? She said, very reasonably, and with good evidence to back her up, that I would get big-headed if I knew.
Plus I was an idiot at LOADS of other things. And she listed everything I was rubbish at, from remembering my keys, to skipping, to tying my shoes and making new friends.
And then, because she was and is the epitome of Tough Love, she let me read her my novel, Pinocchio, from beginning to end. She laughed at the right bits, gasped at the right bits and acted surprised by the ending, which was very sweet of her, as I realized years later, because I had watched that VHS at least once a week for the last six months.
Nat Luurtsema is a BAFTA-nominated screenwriter, stand-up comic, BAFTA Rocliffe alumni, member of the sketch group Jigsaw, actor, author of Cuckoo in the Nest and Goldfish, and writer for BBC Radio 4, BBC3, and Channel 4. Great driver, average waitress, terrible singer. You can find her online at www.natluurtsema.com and on Twitter as @natluurtsema.