When I was about seven years old, my Dad took me to the cinema to see a film called ‘Dunkirk’ starring John Mills and Richard Attenborough, about the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of British soldiers from the beach at Dunkirk as the Germans overran France in the Second World War. It was one of the first times I had been to the cinema, and the film made a strong impression on me, particularly the scenes of helpless, terrified soldiers trying to take cover in the sand dunes as German planes dropped bombs on them and strafed them with machine-gun fire.
A few days later at my primary school, our teacher asked us to write about a book that we had read or a film that we had seen. I picked up my pen, opened my notebook and started writing about Dunkirk. Somehow the next 40 minutes flashed by and at the end of the class I had written several pages, but still hadn’t got beyond the introductory stages of the film.
The following week, when the rest of the class was given a different task, our teacher suggested that I continue with my story of the film, which I did. Again the time melted away, but at the end of class I still hadn’t finished recounting the events of the film. This process continued for several weeks, until finally I finished my account of the film, using up about 30-40 pages of my notebook. The teacher expressed great pleasure when I was done, and told me she was going to put my ‘book’ into the school library.
I had completely forgotten about this incident until a few days ago, when I was watching a film called ‘Atonement’, based on a book by Ian McEwan, who incidentally is one of my favourite writers. Near the end of the film, there was a scene of the same events at Dunkirk that suddenly unlocked my memory of all those years ago. I remembered bending over my notebook as a young boy and going into a kind of trance as the words tumbled onto the page, sensing a thrill of creating the story anew and feeling great satisfaction as I completed the last sentence.
I can’t say that I made up my mind there and then that I was going to be a writer when I grew up, but some kind of seed was sown, which gradually grew into a love of literature and of writing. I can’t even remember the name of the teacher who set us our writing task on that day so long ago, but I’ll be eternally grateful to her for unleashing a passion that I never knew existed within me.
is a British writer and photographer based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.