|Aged 10 - my favourite pastime|
- Tabitha Suzuma
- Tabitha Suzuma is of Anglo-Japanese descent and was born in London, the eldest of five children. She attended a French school in the UK and grew up bilingual. However, she hated school and would sit at the back of the class and write stories. Aged 14, Tabitha left school against her parents' wishes. She got a job as an assistant dance teacher and also worked at a centre for children with Cerebral Palsy. She continued her education through distance learning and went on to study French Literature at King's College London. After graduating, Tabitha worked as a primary school teacher and wrote her first novel, A NOTE OF MADNESS, whilst teaching full-time. In 2004 Tabitha left classroom teaching and began to divide her time between writing and tutoring. This gave her time to write her next four novels: FROM WHERE I STAND - a psychological thriller. WITHOUT LOOKING BACK - about a family on the run. A VOICE IN THE DISTANCE - sequel to A NOTE OF MADNESS. And then her latest book, and most controversial and challenging book to date: FORBIDDEN, about consensual sibling incest: a brother and sister who fall in love. Tabitha is currently working on her sixth novel.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Teenagers Reading and Writing: How Books Can Change Your Life
My grandfather used to tell me stories. Stories that he made up as he went along, about two girls called Jacqueline and Eve. I was so young at the time that I can barely remember the stories now but I do remember the captivating power they had over me. When my grandfather started to talk, anything could happen, worlds could be created, adventures could materialise out of thin air and just by listening to him I could step into someone else’s life, just for an hour or so, have the most exciting adventures, and then return unharmed to the ordinary world.
Soon after, I discovered books. I discovered that there were millions of books out there for me to choose from, millions of different characters I could become, millions of different worlds I could explore. It was like being able to turn myself invisible, grow a pair of wings, and fly into another person’s house, enter another person’s mind. As a child and as a teenager, I spent most of my time reading – by day I was Tabitha and by night I was somebody else. I didn’t just have one life, I had hundreds of lives. I experienced the whole range of emotions possible to mankind, got to know many wonderful people, extraordinary people, evil people, and visited places that I’d never even heard of. I realised that books were doors and that to open a book was to open a door, and go on an incredible adventure.
Of course some books made me laugh and some made me cry, but I remember finishing one particular book late one night and hurling it across my bedroom. It was a hardback book, so I was lucky nothing got broken and nobody got hurt but that particular book made me realise that books could be as powerful, if not more powerful, than real life. I realised that books, even fiction books, were a part of real life – because they were written by real people who were using their own experiences or the experiences of others to create that story.
As a teenager, and during most of my twenties, I experienced clinical depression and so books became my refuge and an escape. I also discovered that I didn’t just have to read in order to step into another life, I could write and escape into another world too. The glory of writing was that suddenly I was the one with the power, I was the one in charge. I could make anything happen, anything I could possibly think of. I could create people out of thin air. And I found that when I let other people read my stories, I was creating worlds for them too. I could make my readers hearts pound with excitement or I could make them want to hurl a book across the room in fury. I could change my readers emotions and give them brand new experiences or take them on any journey I wanted. There were no limits, no boundaries, anything could happen. So I started to write, and by writing, I chose the characters I became and I chose the adventures that happened to me and the experiences I went through. It’s wonderful to read a book and have characters already created for you, stories already there for you to experience. But it is exhilarating to write and to be the one in control, because then really anything can happen and you are completely and utterly free.
Books don’t just change lives, they add lives, as many lives as you choose, to the one you already have. They allow you to live not only once but hundreds of times. During periods of distress, they allow you to get away from your own life and walk in someone else’s shoes for a while. Books saved my life, because there was a period when I was suffering from depression so badly that I didn’t want to live my life any more. And during that time, both reading books and writing stories allowed me to escape the life I couldn’t tolerate, and create new ones.
After spending a lot of time reading books and writing stories, I finally wrote a book of my own, A Note of Madness described as ‘A hard-hitting, rollercoaster-ride of a novel about a teenage musical genius suffering from manic depression.’ The book is about a teenager called Flynn, who is an seventeen-year-old student at the Royal College of Music in London, one of the top music conservatoires in the world. Flynn is a pianist, a very talented one, but as the story progresses, the pressures of studying, practising and performing become greater and greater, and he begins to suffer from increasingly dramatic mood swings and is eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder: a mental illness whereby your emotions swing from complete ecstasy to deep despair. The book is about Flynn’s experience of developing the illness, of trying to cope with the pressure of training to become a concert pianist and how he finally cracks, but ultimately finds a way through.
Although the book is pure fiction, the character was inspired by my brother (also 17 at the time of writing) who is currently training to be a concert pianist at the Royal Academy of Music in London. I was inspired to write about mental illness because it is something I've lived with all my life. During my teens, reading got me through the horror of suicidal depression at its worst - the kind which makes you think you can't bear to stay alive for another day. Writing my first book gave me an outlet for my emotions, a way of expressing myself through a fictional character. It also allowed me to connect to the outside world. For every person that read the book, I felt like I was stepping out and giving them a piece of myself. In those first months of being published, knowing that other people are reading your book feels very dangerous, very scary and totally exhilarating.
Books not only gave me the chance to live many different lives but they also taught me how to write. They gave me wings so that I could fly out of my bedroom window every night and into other people's houses, other people's lives. My advice to any young budding writer is to read the books you want to read, that interest you. Find as many as you can, read as many as you can, and then write the perfect book for you.