In Her Own Words
I was an only child and my father was in the Navy. We moved every year or two California, Japan, upstate New York, New England. I early found the world of books much more satisfactory than the unstable so-called real world. I can't remember the first time I read Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, but this particular story, about a little girl all alone in a strange land who told stories so wonderful that she believed them herself, fascinated me. I never quite lived up to Sara Crewe's standard, but I tried awfully hard.
Writing has always been the other side of reading for me; it never occurred to me not to make up stories. Once I got old enough to realize that authorship existed as a thing one might aspire to, I knew it was for me. I even majored in English literature in college, a good indication of my fine bold disdain for anything so trivial as earning a living; I was going to be a writer, like Dickens and Hardy and George Eliot. And Kipling and H. Rider Haggard and J.R.R. Tolkien. I was, however, going to tell breathtaking stories about girls who had adventures. I was tired of the boys always getting the best parts in the best books. What with reading and making up my own stories, I spent most of my life in my head; about the only irresistible attraction reality had for me was in the shape of horses and riding. And I liked traveling. Perhaps because of my childhood, staying in one place for very long just seemed to me like a waste of opportunity.
It's funny, though, the things life does to you. Inadvertently I discovered myself settling down, looking for excuses not to climb on another airplane. I bought a house because I fell in love with it, and it was somewhere to leave the thousands of books I picked up everywhere I went. Later, I decided that I wanted something around that didn't necessarily sit politely on a shelf till I took it down, so I bought a dog, a whippet I named Rowan. Insidiously I began liking it that tomorrow was going to be much like yesterday: walking the dog, sitting at the typewriter. I declared myself to have found home in my tiny house in a small village two-thirds of the way up the coast of Maine. I also, a little ruefully, concluded that my individual mix of the writer's traditional absent-mindedness, a rather uncompromising feminism, and a naturally intransigent personality made marriage or any sort of permanent romantic attachment impractical. I didn't actually think I was missing much; I liked being single.
This no doubt explains somehow why I am now living in a small village in a very large house in Hampshire, England, with my husband, the English writer Peter Dickinson, three whippets, and a horse, and what seems to me, the only child and ex-solitary adult, about half a million Dickinson grandchildren rioting underfoot, down the corridors, and across the garden. When Peter and I decided to get married, it was obvious to me I was the one who had to emigrate; I was the military brat with lifelong experience of pulling up and moving on. So I dug up my tender new understanding of "home," packed it very carefully, and brought it over here with me, with the eighty cartons of books and one bewildered whippet. It has taken root vigorously here, but the message to headquarters is very emphatic: "Don't you ever do this to us again." I'm not likely to: I've planted over four hundred rosebushes in what were once Peter's classic English garden borders and look after them devotedly. I have the scars to prove it.
I think I've discovered reality after all. I'm astonished at how interesting it is. It's giving me more things to write stories about.
Copyright © 2001 by Robin McKinley