My first notable creation was a satirical pamphlet entitled "The Sylvia Plath Guide to Gas Cookers." That pretty much set the tone for all of my future work.I say uneasy, because I started to worry that this sounded glib or in especially poor taste - I edited the reference out of my agency biography for that very reason. True, Sylvia Plath died a long time ago, but can a woman gassing herself and leaving two small children ever be considered fertile ground for comedy?
What was quite unexpected for me was that I've started to realise how that cheap bit of teenage humour was actual a pivotal step in my development as a writer. I'd just started A Level English Literature and found myself attracted by the honesty of Plath's work while simultaneously repelled by her self-pity. I think it was probably a case of disliking in others what we hate in ourselves, but I wasn't self-aware enough to see that. In particular, the circumstances of her death loomed large over everything, the pages of Ariel seeming to reek of martyrdom.
So, I wrote my riposte - four pages in biro with bad drawings and Madame Plath recommending easy-clean hobs and gas safety features from beyond the grave. I showed my friend, we laughed about it and it went in a bag somewhere and got lost. It didn't seem that important. But it was, because this was the first time I had used humour to try to make sense of my own situation - a technique that is still the cornerstone of my writing today. My mother tried to commit suicide several times during my childhood and it's now so clear to me that that was what I was reacting to. It seems bizarre (and a little repressive) that it's taken me twenty years to see that.
Writing is a key form of therapy for me, as I'm sure it was for Plath - even if I hope I'll continue to have a firmer grip on the world. What's ironic is that Plath's work itself is full of humour if you go looking for it, albeit humour of blackest kind. Sometimes, we find ourselves in a book and never even realise...