Sharing her Five Photos with me today is Paula Harmon. Paula was born in north London but her life as a country girl began at eighteen months when the family moved out, trailing slowly westwards from small town to village before settling in South Wales when she was eight. Her writing life started with “Clanger” fan fiction and making up stories to act out with a kindred spirit. These largely involved flying unicorns. She graduated from Chichester University (Bishop Otter College) with a BA in English Literature and now puts her fabulous imagination to good use through writing. I’m delighted to welcome her to the blog today.
‘Mum and Me at Lindisfarne (I think)’
I found this in a pile of photographs at my parents house. Dad was a bit of a hoarder and after he died and Mum was moving to be near me, I kept finding pockets of little treasures. Sadly a lot of the older photos were in boxes in a shed with a leaking roof. One of the worst things was finding so many of them ruined. Anyway, my parents were keen ramblers, campers and photographers and this must have been taken one holiday before my sister was born. My dad specialised in arranging holidays when we’d have bad weather, almost always wet, sometimes cold. But we always found interesting places to visit and in this photograph I like the strange mysterious face in the wall which looks as if it might have emerged from the stone simply to find out what’s happening. When I was older, Dad would make stories up about things like this and I think that is partly why I find not just history but the thought of parallel worlds so fascinating. I incorporated a real family holiday into ‘The Cluttering Discombobulator’ albeit one with sunshine.
I was a rather serious little girl. I had dreams of being a dramatic actress but being the shortest in the class, mousy-haired and with a tendency towards scabs on my knees and being generally rather untidy, I was given silly roles instead. I was about seven in this photo. The demure lady-like girls got to be princesses. I ended up as the mother rabbit in a school play about bunnies. My mother made the headpiece out of a fake fur hat and ears which she had sewed and had satin inside. The ears, rather faded with age, were also in the treasures I found when she moved. The irony of being cast in this particular role is that my front teeth had just fallen out so I couldn’t have looked less like a rabbit if I’d tried. Many years later, my naughty little sister put this photo in the paper on one of my birthdays. I’ve given up on hopes of being sophisticated or serious. Nowadays, I would happily dress up as a mother bunny only no-one has asked and I suspect my family would disown me if I did.
When I was eight, we moved to South Wales and I lived there till I left for university at eighteen. I was very lonely and having changed schools three times by that point and being bullied, I was rather untrusting of other children. I spent a lot of time wandering about on my own in the woods and by the river, talking to myself, talking to nature and making up stories in my head. The river was the river Dulais which had come down from the valleys and joined the river Neath at our village. I used to spend time watching the wildlife along the river banks and in the waters and once, at a particularly fast flowing part, I fell in. I was on my own, having been sent out with strict instructions to be sensible. The waterfall was a few metres away. Somehow I got myself out and lay in the sun for a while to dry off so that my mother wouldn’t find out. The waterfall was once the site of local industry and is now a National Trust property (worth a visit) but when I was a child and teenager you could wander about without having to pay and on hot days, I’d walk home from school, climb up to this spot and stick my feet in the water. It was a magical place and forms the background for a number of the stories in ‘Kindling’ as well as being the village on which ‘home’ in ‘The Cluttering Discombobulator’ is based.
I loved dragons. This little fellow was bought in a tourist shop in Neath just before I left home and has come everywhere with me. He has been snoozing for more years than I care to remember. Dragons are pretty universal. I am fascinated by the links between different cultures via stories. Some of them must surely go back to the very first people as they spread out across the world, reinterpreting an ancient tale as their environment changed and their culture adapted. Who knows what inspired the first dragon story. There is always a dragon somewhere in what I write, even if it’s a tattoo. In ‘The Advent Calendar’ I tell the tale of carol singers who find out one of the neighbours has a secret. The story is half true. You’ll have to read it to work out which half.
Me and Dad
This photo is quite a few years old and taken before Dad became ill. Dad was the one who made books come alive and who always had a story of his own on the go. Even in the last week before he died, he was writing away at his latest tale. I would like to publish them some day although the editing would take some doing. Dad didn’t believe in editing any more than he believed in tidying. ‘Never use one word when fifty will do’ appears to have been his motto. One of my earliest memories is of sitting in his lap in the big red armchair as he read ‘Alice in Wonderland’ from a big red book. I don’t suppose I understood a word (Dad would never have thought that three years old was too young for the original version) but I felt the magic purely from the way he read. I wrote ‘The Cluttering Discombobulator’ as a tribute to him, trying to encapsulate his eccentricity and sense of fun whether as a young father or as a grandfather in a mobility scooter. Without his encouragement, I doubt I would be sharing my stories today.
At her first job interview, Paula Harmon answered ‘where do you see yourself in 10 years’ with ‘writing’ as opposed to ‘progressing in your company.’ She didn’t get that job. She tried teaching and realised the one thing the world did not need was another bad teacher. Somehow or other she subsequently ended up as a civil servant and if you need to know a form number, she is your woman.
Her short stories include dragons, angst ridden teenagers, portals and civil servants (though not all in the same story – yet). Perhaps all the life experience was worth it in the end.
Paula is married with two children and lives in Dorset. She is currently working on a thriller, a humorous murder mystery and two collaborations: one a historical mystery and the other a collection of short stories. She’s wondering where the housework fairies are, because the house is a mess and she can’t think why.
You can find short stories and random thoughts at www.paulaharmondownes.wordpress.com
‘The Cluttering Discombobulator’
Can everything be fixed with duct tape? Dad thinks so. The story of one man’s battle against common sense and the family caught up in the chaos around him. Buy in the UK or in the US.
Find her on Goodreads.