Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

How my love of literature began

Bella Snow discusses how Dr Seuss originally sparked her love for reading and poetry, a passion that eventually led her to apply to Warwick to study English Literature and Creative Writing.

“Kid, you’ll move mountains! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way!” This, a quote I have engraved on a bracelet in silver, and written again on a yellow post-it stuck to my mirror. A quote bestowed to me at the age of three, when my parents took turns teaching me to read – and a quote that to this very day helps me get out of bed in the morning, get dressed, and move.

Dr Seuss – perhaps a philosopher in his own right – paved many of the foundations of my childhood, including my passion for poetry. I remember my father’s favourite, Sneetches on the Beaches, and what it taught me about respecting each other’s differences and living in harmony. A favourite of mine, What was I scared of? taught me about the importance of overcoming fear and instead exercising kindness in strange and unfamiliar situations – yes, through the use of a personified pair of pale green pants, but to a younger me the message was strong and clear. The Lorax gifted me new perspectives on our environment which I still do my best to refer to, and of course, Green Eggs and Ham – don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, because you might discover something new, and it might very well change your life.

For a long time, that box became filled with poems, short stories, and even whole novellas I wrote by hand in my bedroom

At the age of six, my teacher at the time – we’ll call her Mrs W – had me writing my own poetry. I would stay inside during lunch-time and play, and she would help me compose an anthology. At the end of that year, I gave my mother a poetry book for her birthday, made up of Seussian rhymes and jokes only she would understand, and she has kept it all this time in a box in the loft. For a long time, that box became filled with poems, short stories, and even whole novellas I wrote by hand in my bedroom, inspired by all the new books I was reading as I grew older.

It wasn’t that way forever. Not long after starting secondary school, I began to really struggle with my identity, and how I could make myself fit in. This, combined with the pressure to succeed academically, left my mental health in shambles. At the age of thirteen, I had given up writing altogether, and the only reading I participated in was the mandatory literature for classes. I told everyone I wanted to be a surgeon, or a lawyer, or perhaps I wanted to be a geologist – anything that didn’t involve the arts, despite the creativity I harboured deep down. I wasn’t happy, and many people became worried for me when my fight to impress became destructive. At the age of sixteen, I became so depressed that I rarely left my house – even for school.

The long summer after my GCSEs gave me the downtime I needed. My parents bought me over twenty books for my birthday that year, in the hope that I would take up reading again. In those two and a half months I cleared maybe two or three books a week. I wrote a novel – an awful, poorly structured romance which was better off never seeing the light of day, but it gave me myself back. I had forgotten how much I loved the written word, and how desperate I had been to familiarise myself with it again. I entered sixth form with a new philosophy – “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

I told her I was going to Durham to study Geography, and she was confused. “I always saw you studying literature,” she said, and I instantly panicked

Although I had re-established my identity, school still proved a stubborn obstacle. I wanted to be seen as intelligent, employable, and I was pushed to apply to Oxbridge, despite not wanting to go. And then came the big decision: did I study English Literature, or did I pursue something else? In the end, I didn’t choose – Geography is more employable, they said, and that was that.

I thought I was on the right path. I was interested in Geography, and it was a BSc – a science, academic. But one day, as I was walking my dog, I came across someone I used to know quite well. The mother of my best friend in primary school, excited to see me – and she asked if I was going to study English at university. I told her I was going to Durham to study Geography, and she was confused. “I always saw you studying literature,” she said, and I instantly panicked.

I called the university three weeks before the start of term and begged them to let me switch courses. It wasn’t possible – so, I forced myself to go. I pretended to be happy, to love my course, but soon pretending became exhausting and I wouldn’t get out of bed. It felt like I was back to square one. Sixteen, hiding in my house, wondering where it went wrong.

I felt excited again, and happy, and I suddenly knew that I was doing the right thing

By the end of November 2017, it became clear that I couldn’t take much more. I made one last final attempt to persuade the Head of English to take me on, and when I failed, I dropped out. I felt humiliated, and alone, and I spent my impromptu gap year paying for my mistakes – literally. Until I came across the website for Warwick’s English Literature and Creative Writing course.

So, I did what I should have done to start off with – I applied. I sent in my portfolio, and I waited – and when UCAS told me I’d been accepted, I actually shrieked. I felt excited again, and happy, and I suddenly knew that I was doing the right thing. I began reading widely and passionately again, and this time I had gotten myself back into the fictional world.

And although I owe my passion for reading to my parents, Dr Seuss, and Mrs W – I also owe myself. I owe myself for allowing me to be happy. For allowing myself to do what I truly love. Because, in the famous words of my childhood philosopher: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

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