Well, to start with, I’ve always loved reading. I vividly recall dashing home with my first-grade primer, an absurdly titled book called Tip, about an eponymous dog and his earnestly simple adventures, shouting to my mother as I came in the front door that I can read! I do recall being read to prior to that by my parents, and I also recall an endless supply of library books. (Back then, libraries were still blessedly hushed places where reverence for the printed word was easily instilled.) I recall early writing efforts for school --- including winning an elementary class-wide competition in grade four and reading my magnum opus aloud as part of the entertainment section of each Friday afternoon’s whole-school assembly. But I think a major creative energy that, perhaps, presaged my future literary self was a childhood activity my closest friends and I simply called The Game, or A Game.
There were three of us in my core group. I’ll call my two friends Arthur and Isaac, after the classic science fiction authors I was even then beginning to discover. (As I’ve said elsewhere, I was precocious as a child --- but I do deny I was a toad.) Artie was a year older than Isaac and me, and we played all sorts of things. Both Artie and Isaac were big football fans, and while I’ve been pretty indifferent to the concept of organized sports my entire life --- not really sure why --- I quite willingly joined in the football games. I think I had something to prove. Some of the fringe members of the group were, to my eyes anyway, fairly tough boys --- one or two of them borderline bullies --- and I was, I think, at least subconsciously, determined to prove I was a scrappy contender even with the nerdy glasses I was saddled with from grade two onwards. So we played football. And soccer, too, as I recall, although that was mostly as school.
We also played war. You need to know this was at the height of the Cold War and the Vietnam conflict, and there were a lot of spy and war shows like Combat on TV. GI Joe was just about the only doll it was remotely socially acceptable for boys to play with, and I had a GI Joe doctor’s kit that my parents bought me because they refused to indulge my blood lust and buy me toy guns. (I wanted a Johnny-7 O.M.A. gun. Desperately. Look it up on Wikipedia and you’ll see why: seven different weapons in one gun! But nooo, in a fairly heavy-handed attempt at parental influencing, I got a doctor’s kit.)
But as often as I could persuade Artie and Isaac, we played The Game.
The Game was, at its heart, just a never-ending series of story ideas. Mostly with me as the protagonist, and Artie and Isaac assuming various subordinate roles. The ideas could come from books I had read, or films I had seen, or just about anything that would serve as a springboard for my imagination. I also served as director, telling Artie and Isaac how they would react in given situations and what they would say. Speaking of heavy-handed, in retrospect, it was rather on my part --- guess I came by it honestly --- and thinking about it now, I wonder at their patience/acquiescence. Although really, I suppose, when children play, there are always leaders and followers. And Artie and Isaac must have enjoyed themselves, because children are also pretty good at telling other children to stuff it when they become too unbearable. (I don’t think I’m rationalizing here… am I? No, no, definitely not.)
We played The Game in different places: quite a lot in Isaac’s back yard, for some reason --- maybe because it had a really good swing set with all kinds of extras that could serve as props or sets for varied scenarios; sometimes in Artie’s basement, because it was undeveloped and full of stuff like old, broken-down furniture transformable into forts and caves and passages. And in Artie’s back yard, lying on the ground beside a perpetually unfinished garage pad, there was an old, real World War II machine gun that could become all sorts of things. (I don’t think it ever occurred to me to wonder how or why that machine gun was there. It just was. Many things, children just accept on faith.)
The Game lasted as an enduring and wildly successful activity for us until Artie entered junior high. Then, for reasons I didn’t understand --- don’t now, really --- it became rather juvenile and embarrassingly passé for him. I was first puzzled by his reaction, then sorrowful, because I sensed the winds of change were blowing, and I wasn’t particularly keen to see where they were taking us. Isaac took his cue from Artie and that was the end of The Game. Sic transit gloria mundi, I guess.
But by then, I had already started writing, so that lessened the sting somewhat. If my friends wouldn’t play out my creative ideas with me, then gosh-darn it, I would turn to the pen and keep on going, recording and writing and imagining new vistas, boldly going and all that. It was about then I first read The Hobbit, followed in lightning succession by The Lord of the Rings, and that was personally transformative. It was a whole new world. A brave new world, to have such creatures in’t. And I would write about worlds like it.
The die was cast.
Oh, and… I was 12, by the way.
Yep, perhaps just a tad precocious.