What a Difference 20 Years Makes

If you have read my author bio on my Unbound page, you may remember the following statement:

"When Kate Dreyer was seven years old she wrote a children's book optimistically titled 'Animal Story 1', in which a young girl rescues a fox. She bound it herself using a cereal box as a hardback cover." 

You may have thought this an adorable lie to encourage pity-pledges for my novel, but you would be wrong. Yesterday a box of childhood memories was brought to my house by my mother and inside -- amongst old school work, Spice Girls Impulse body spray, and insane letters from my friend Charlotte -- was my cereal box animal story.

I got the title slightly wrong and I was nine, not seven, when I released this glorious object unto the world, but here it is in all it's felt-tipped glory:

That is a barn owl, hand drawn by yours truly. I'm not sure why my name didn't make it to the cover, though -- Maybe I was going for a Robert Galbraith style anonymity? Nine-year-old me clearly wasn't ready for literary fame.

The story itself is equally magnificent, unfolding at almost light-speed. The following is all contained within the first THREE paragraphs:

  • A small girl called Susie leaves her house to buy bread and finds an injured fox in a hedge.
  • Susie brings the fox home, mother tells her to take it to the animal sanctuary.
  • She takes the fox (now named Scout) to animal sanctuary on the back of her bike, somehow.
  • Betty, who runs the animal sanctuary, stitches the fox's wound up, inexplicably letting Susie help with the procedure despite her being a child with no relevant qualifications or understanding of hygeine.
  • After the surgery, Susie asks Betty for a job at the sanctuary.
  • Betty agrees, saying she can start at 7am the next day. There is no discussion of salary, nor is any contract signed by either party. 

Three. Paragraphs.

The rest of the story (fifteen paragraphs in total) involves:

  • Susie adopting an owl. (She literally takes a baby owl from the sanctuary back to her house.)
  • The fox getting lost in the sanctuary and found again (all within one paragraph).
  • Susie and her mother discussing her father's irrelevant business trip to New York.
  • Susie writing her homework on the bus to school. (Although it wasn't explicitly explained, the homework seemed to be "write about your pet" - what a coincidence!)
  • A boy in Susie's class admitting he hadn't done his homework and the teacher giving him detention.
  • Susie being a bratty little teacher's pet because she got a fucking pet owl the day before and everyone was all like "wow you're so cool Susie" (ugh).
  • Susie goes back home then meets Betty to release the now 100% healthy fox back into the wild.

As well as the many plot and character issues, my punctuation was also somewhat experimental: 

Notice, also, the dot matrix printing. My favourite thing is the thing that all children do when they write: stating how old people are for no reason... 

My parents were 37 at the time, so I probably assumed all adults were 37. They probably told me what a suture was, too.

As I mentioned in my Unbound bio, I put pressure on myself by designating it story number one, and the back of my book promises two more...

Thankfully, these other instalments never saw the light of day, as they didn't exist in any form in my head.

It was pretty fun to read this after twenty years and I see a lot of my adult self in it, despite its simplicity.

Yes, it features a fox, but I was clearly desperately trying to cram a lot of ideas into this story and didn't have the experience, knowledge or skills to do it properly.

Now, I have a good understanding of plot, structure and storytelling, as well as the time and resources to be able to craft something actually enjoyable to read. At least, I hope that's the case, but you can see for yourself soon!

I also hope I'm still writing stories in another 20 years. Perhaps I will have transitioned from cereal boxes, to e-books, to actual paper by then...? 

WritingKate DreyerComment