It begins when you wake at 5am – and must be ready to go by 5.15, at the latest. Normally, when I give an “at the latest” time to you – one of those things adults say to children – you turn up at least ten minutes after the time I’ve requested.
You will not be late today.
You will be so pleased with yourself – for arriving on time, to this most important moment. And then, you will realise…
… I’m not coming with you.
You must go on this journey without me and I won’t even be able to hug you goodbye.
Time’s ticking – I now have nine minutes and 30 seconds to tell you everything.
Want to start again at The Beginning?
Or want to scroll onward and read the rest of it?
I’ll have to tell you everything I want you to know through a story – Storytelling Tip: Nothing else, but a story, can shine a light on a whole life, in such a short space of time.
You will have many – some born to you, some given to you, some claimed by you. They are all loved. They are each bright, shining.
Once upon a future time, you are glad you gave so much time and effort to raising these little ones, growing them into tall flowers.
The first child, you will meet soon after the first time you finish reading this story, as in, The End.
Together, you will start the beginning of a different, but connected, looping tale. Storytelling Tip: All stories are connected.
The way you look after that child, when no one else will – though you are still growing yourself. The way you take their hand. The way you carry them along the last part of the hot valley walk, while you sweat half-to-death – for reasons outlined later in this story.
You will be a sibling, a carer and a friend to that first child. You will show everyone around you all the things that children are capable of, in the way you take on the welfare of a younger person in need.
Storytelling Tip: You can always write a different story for yourself, than the one that other people have imagined about you.
At The End of this story – when you have read it a thousand times over – you will find out about another new life on its way to meet you. A new baby growing. (Yes, it’s that thousandth time at last – the part you’ve always shaken your head at, all the other times of reading this.)
You are now thinking, “Have I really read this story a thousand times?” You are wishing you could go back to The Beginning and pay more attention – this is one of the things we all think, when we get to an important part of our stories.
For the thousandth time – and also the first time – you read now, what I have written, about that new part of you that is coming. A new baby growing.
You will be delighted, excited and unnerved to think that, I told you from the past, this would happen.
Take a minute to remember your baby pics, among our family photos – how I used to make you look at them with me. I know, I miss you too.
These moments – of the past rushing up to meet the future – they have you puzzling, wondering:
“How can I write my own story?” Should I read these Storytelling Tips I’ve been given?
You think on how to plot narratives. How to detail characters. How to take parts of your real life and weave a fiction with them.
You will wonder, how can you make sense of yesterday, tomorrow and today, through a story? Did I mention my Storytelling Tips? You can also ignore them, there’s only one – write because you have to.
At some point in this tale, you can see slopes of grass, rocks, forests, paths we trod. I based all of this bit of the description in the story, on our family photos.
I can look ahead in time and see the rows of cottages – on the other side of the valley. I can remember how we used to look at those snug cottages, wishing we were indoors, on windy holiday campsite mornings.
Did I make the right choice? Setting your future story in that location? I had to place it somewhere I could imagine. I had to see, in my mind’s eye, how your life might flourish and unfurl – among the ferns, flowers, fields and farms – in the place we loved so well, on so many outdoor holidays.
I took a piece of something I knew really well – a location – and then wrote a story set there. Another Storytelling Tip – but you knew that by now, right?
I see you there:
You often paddle with your children, in the ancient riverbed, near where you live now.
All our family photos help me to imagine this part.
You try to land pebbles upon the jagged, giant rock that stands in the middle of the always-moving water. Since you were but a toddling dot, you have loved to throw stone after stone, into that endless flow.
You will never see a stone land successfully and remain upon that rock – and you will also never stop trying to make it happen. You feel like you are living in our family photos, when you are at the river.
The visual memories of our family photos intermingle, with your present days, whenever you dip your toes in the river’s cold flow.
You will sometimes deliberately go there, just so you can feel the past around you. Sometimes you will stay away from it, wanting to be free of all that’s happened before.
Which brings me back to now, which I guess we could describe as the middle of this story. Storytelling Tip: I’m the writer, I get to decide.
So many people panicked, pulled out, fled too soon. Or they put up with where we were, afraid to ever make a needed change – like the sayings go.
But I waited, calmed my breath, assessed daily the situation and regularly called the people who run the farm, where we’ve so often holidayed. That is why now, when we must, you are able to go and live there, upon their land.
And you are well prepared – I have given you all you need to survive, physically, in the outdoors.
But are you ready mentally? Emotionally? Within yourself? All the times you’ve rolled your eyes, saying:
“Yes, I know!” Or:
“I can do it myself!” Or:
Did you know, those are all the things children say to adults, when children are growing up?
It makes me also think of all the things adults say to children, when children are growing up.
And then I think about all the clichés, “wisdom quotes” and the way the sayings go.
I used to think these kinds of things were a joke – now I grab them quickly, snatching back time – in the five minutes I have left to tell you everything. Storytelling Tip – we’ve covered a lot in five minutes so far, haven’t we?
I think of all the other things I haven’t told you about yet. The only way I can get these across, in the time I have left to write, is by passing on lists of all my favourite things – books, films, songs – things that say something about me.
Maybe, if you can spend some time with the things I love, in a place we loved together, you will feel that we are side-by-side again. You will feel that I am there with you, as I am at The Beginning, quickly writing you this story.
I can imagine you, wide-awake, in your tent, working through the lists – when you should be asleep. I can write about this, not because I really know your, “Once upon a future time“, but because I remember our family photos, which I can use to represent our whole past – Storytelling Tip.
I remember times, when we have lain awake, chatting in our tent. I can easily recall the feeling of our sleeping bags – pulled tight, darkness all around us. I can burrow into the detail and create descriptions of torches, lighting up our chins, while we shelter cosily under canvas.
You would demand more stories and I – my tired, adult eyelids drooping in the dark – could never say no to you. And when you visit the lists of all my favourite things, you’ll work out that I borrowed from the ideas in many of my favourite stories to tell new stories to you. Storytelling Tip: This is what writers do.
And so, this is one of many other stories that exist.
And, by the way, you won’t always enjoy reading it.
At times, you will feel angry that we are not together. Other times, you will believe that reading this is the only way you can feel close to me. Neither, and both, of those things are true.
You will spend too much time looking at our family photos, until you won’t know if you’re an adult or a child anymore.
You will look at your own children and realise – as adults eventually do – that the things you thought separated you from me – time, age and experience – are the things that will later bring us back together.
It will all become clear. We will be but a breath away, from once again reaching out to touch and hug each other. You will think, what if you knew me when I was a little? How would we have played together?
Storytelling Tip – you can imagine a different future, or another version of the past, by telling yourself a new story about it.
In a future dawn – like my present one – I write that you rise.
Meanwhile, here, at The Beginning of the story, I let the dawn light into my eyes.
In the future, you step outside and remember me in our family photos – always out of the tent early, drinking tea in the porch.
I know, I miss you too.
In the future, you stand, look up at the sky, stretch, head out to the toilet, then back to dress. You ‘forget’ to clean your teeth, again. But then you remember me, nagging:
“Brush for two minutes, look at your mouth, reach to the back.”
You smell your own breath and grin, remembering how cross I could become, about the little things you didn’t think were important.
You will think of what you might have said back to me, one of those things children say to adults, when children are growing up.
Then you will honour me, by going back to the campsite washing place, to brush your teeth properly.
Your morning sun creeps upwards in your sky – like it does for me, at The Beginning. The birds, which were singing so much, in my dawn, just a few of my moments ago, are calming down now around you, in the future.
As you enjoy your clean teeth and the morning light, you realise you have come to the love the sunrise, just like me. You wish you could tell me this. Don’t worry – I already know.
At The Beginning, once I stop writing, you will wake in our house for the last time – in your room, next to mine. You will pull on socks and clothes, layering your daytime outfit over your pyjamas – the amount of times I’ve told you not to do that.
You’ll think of me in the room next to yours and enjoy ignoring my imaginary voice in your head. Ignoring whatever I say, of those things adults say to children, when children are growing up.
You will imagine yourself replying sarcastically, with one of those things children say to adults, when children are growing up.
Later, you will regret not listening to my imaginary voice in your head, as you walk six miles – from the crossroads where you are dropped off – sweating hard, in your layers, your pyjamas stuck to you.
You won’t enjoy hearing my imaginary voice in your head, saying those things adults say to children, when children are growing up:
“I told you so.”
The midday, midsummer heat will shimmer above the sticky, tarmac road. You will be scorched, as you travel up the centre of the valley. And you will have a little one to carry for the last part of the walk too, remember?
Imagine me now, at The Beginning, shaking my head – knowing this would happen – which I am.
Remember, how I would get, when I would give you a list of all the things you hadn’t listened to me about?
Well, I knew you would regret not charging your phone last night.
I knew, on the journey, you would feel wretched that you can’t text me, or check if you have any messages from me.
When you eventually switch on your phone, you will see After, Words.
You will read my story once straight through, then read it again slowly, many times, clicking on all the links.
I’ve tried to stretch time, make ten minutes of the written word speak of a lifetime of me – far away, but also next to you.
The sun has again risen,
I am letting the light in
Once upon a future time,
You’ll get lost in your story,
You’ll feel lonely without me,
It’s going to be okay.