I used to tell people that I discovered that I wanted to be a storyteller when I went to an evening of storytelling by Ashley Ramsden and Bernard Kelly at Roffey Park in 1996. But recently, I have realised that as a child there were already inklings of my calling to be a storyteller.
When I was an eight year old pupil at boarding school, I was obsessed with the Biggles stories by Captain W.E. Johns. I loved reading these stories of airborne adventures because they reminded me of my dad who had been a pilot. Indeed, I was so taken by them that I decided to write one myself. I spent my Saturday pocket money on a lined notebook and a new pencil, found a quiet corner and began to write.
It was slow going and I managed a page and a half before stopping to read what I had written. But it was nowhere near as exciting as the books I had read. It didn’t occur to me at the time that the real-life author of Biggles had the advantage of being an adult, just that my effort wasn’t good enough. I cried with frustration and threw the notebook away.
In The Soul’s Code, James Hillman uses the metaphor of the acorn and the oak: the acorn comes into being with the full potential of the oak tree already within itself. Becoming an oak is the acorn’s telos or destiny. Similarly, human beings come into the world latent with purpose though we may fail to recognise it.
As adults, if we are uncertain about our sense of purpose, then childhood – says Hillman – is a good place to look for clues. He suggests that we ask ourselves the question: “What did I first want to be when I grew up?” The answer that comes back to us is important because it might just reveal the acorn that contains the oak.
My answer, when I reflected on my childhood obsession with Biggles, took a while to reveal its secret: I didn’t want to be a pilot like my father but a maker and teller of stories. So, dear readers, what stories do you have from your childhood that point to your destiny?