When I was about eight, so Nadin legend has it, I turned to my father, whilst watching Derek Griffiths perform Fagin in the Plymouth Royal’s production of “Oliver!” that “that” was what I wanted to be when I grew up. My father assumed, rightly, that by “that” I meant acting (though a close call as impoverished orphan was also quite high on my list at the time).
And I tried. I adopted appalling wigs, make-up and accents in various Essex Amateur Operatic Society shows. I co-wrote angsty sixth form plays about how horrid men are. I pretended to be a toaster whilst doing a degree in drama.
Only there was one hitch in all of this. I didn’t like being watched while I did it. Which is kind of a make or break deal really. And so I gave it up and went into politics instead, which many would argue (rightly) involves far more make believe. And a lot of ridiculous make-up.
But I am struck as I sit, a *mumbles something* year-old woman, in an office in a slightly tired terrace overlooking the city, pretending to be a seventeen year old living in a manor house in Cornwall, that writing itself is the greatest act of “let’s pretend”.
I am not, and have never been, an eight-year-old Indian boy, or a teenager with multiple personality disorder, or the child of a single parent, or had a diamond thieving monkey as a pet. And, though Rachel Riley is me, she is a long gone version, in a town I have barely visited in the past twenty years.
So writing is a conjuring act – of people and places, of pretending to be someone you’re not for six or more hours a day. There’s no live audience, but the show had better be word-perfect convincing anyway as it will be preserved in black and white for all to read. It’s the perfect play for the camera-shy. An eternal game of pirates and princesses.
Because while my body may be sat at this computer in 2012, I am not really here. I’m at my own Manderley, deep in the woods, a teenage girl with a just-dead cousin, waiting to meet a boy who may not be who he claims…