My name is Mina
by David Almond
For Sara Jane and Freya
Moonlight, Wonder, Flies & Nonsense
My name is Mina and I love the night. Anything seems possible at night when the rest of the world has gone to sleep. It’s dark and silent in the house, but if I listen close, I hear the beat beat beat of my heart. I hear the creak and crack of the house. I hear my mum breathing gently in her sleep in the room next door.
I slip out of bed and sit at the table by the window. I tug the curtain open. There’s a full moon in the middle of the sky. It bathes the world in its silvery light. It shines on Falconer Road and on the houses and the streets beyond, and on the city roofs and spires and on the distant mountains and moors. It shines into the room and onto me.
Some say that you should turn your face from the light of the moon. They say it makes you mad.
I turn my face towards it and I laugh.
Make me mad, I whisper. Go on, make Mina mad.
I laugh again.
Some people think that she’s already mad, I think.
I look into the night. I see owls and bats that fly and flicker across the moon. Somewhere out there, Whisper the cat is slipping through the shadows. I close my eyes and it’s like those creatures are moving inside me, almost like I’m a kind of weird creature myself, a girl whose name is Mina but more than just a girl whose name is Mina.
There’s an empty notebook lying on the table in the moonlight. It’s been there for an age. I keep on saying that I’ll write a journal. So I’ll start right here, right now. I open the book and write the very first words:
Then what shall I write? I can’t just write that this happened then this happened then this happened to boring infinitum. I’ll let my journal grow just like the mind does, just like a tree or a beast does, just like life does. Why should a book tell a tale in a dull straight line?
Words should wander and meander. They should fly like owls and flicker like bats and slip like cats. They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.
Sometimes there should be no words at all.
Just clean white space.
Some pages will be like a sky with a single bird in it. Some will be like a sky with a swirling swarm of starlings in it. My sentences will be a clutch, a collection, a pattern, a swarm, a shoal, a mosaic. They will be a circus, a menagerie, a tree, a nest. Because my mind is not in order. My mind is not straight lines. My mind is a clutter and a mess. It is my mind, but it is also very like other minds. And like all minds, like every mind that there has ever been and every mind that there will ever be, it is a place of wonder.
When I was at school – at St. Bede’s Middle – I was told by my teacher Mrs. Scullery that I should not write anything until I had planned what I would write. What nonsense!
Do I plan a sentence before I speak it?
OF COURSE I DO NOT!
Does a bird plan its song before it sings?
OF COURSE IT DOES NOT!
It opens its beak and it
SINGS so I will SING!
I did want to be what they called a good girl, so I did try. There was one fine morning when the sun was shining through the classroom window. There was a cloud of flies shimmering and dancing in the air outside. I heard Mrs. Scullery telling us that she wanted us to write a story. Of course we’d need to write a plan first, she said.
She asked us whether we understood.
We told her that we did.
So I stopped staring at the flies (which I had been enjoying very much!), and I wrote my plan. My story would have such and such a title, and would begin in such and such a way, then such and such would happen in the middle, then such and such would be the outcome at the end. I wrote it all down very neatly.
I showed my plan to Mrs. Scullery, and she was very pleased. She even smiled at me and said, “Well done, Mina. That is very good, dear. Now you may write the story.”
But of course when I started to write, the story wouldn’t keep still, wouldn’t obey. The words danced like flies. They flew off in strange and beautiful directions and took my story on a very unexpected course. I was very pleased with it, but when I showed it to Mrs. Scullery, she just got cross. She held the plan in one hand and the story in the other.
“They do not match!” she said in her screechy voice.
“I don’t know what you mean, Miss,” I said.
She leaned down towards me.
“The story,” she said, in a slow stupid voice like she was talking to somebody slow and stupid, “does not fit the plan!”
“But it didn’t want to, Miss,” I answered.
“Didn’t want to? What on earth do you mean, it didn’t want to?”
“I mean it wanted to do other things, Miss.”
She put her hands on her hips and shook her head. “It is a story,” she said. “It is your story. It will do what you tell it to.”
“But it won’t,” I said. She kept on glaring at me.
“And Miss,” I said, like I was pleading with her to understand. “I don’t want it to, Miss.”
I should have saved my breath. She flung the papers onto my table.
“This is typical of you,” she said. “Absolutely typical!”
And she turned to a girl called Samantha and asked her to read her tale, which was something about a girl with curly hair and her cuddly cat, a perfectly planned idiotic thing in which nothing interesting happened at all! And of course all the other kids were giggling through it all, and it led to one of the nicknames I had back then. Typical. Absolutely Typical McKee.
Huh! Huh! Typical!
My stories were like me. They couldn’t be controlled and they couldn’t fit in. Trying to be a good girl sometimes made me very sad. The end of it all was the day I became nonsensical. Fantastically nonsensical. I’ll tell the story of that day when the time seems right, when the words seem right. And I suppose I’ll tell the other tales that matter, like the tale of my day at Corinthian Avenue and my vision, or the story of my journey to the Underworld in Heston Park, or the story of my grandfather’s house and the owls. And I’ll put in poems and scribblings and nonsense. Sometimes writing nonsense can make a lot of sense! That sounds nonsensical itself, of course, but it isn’t. NON-SENS-I-CAL! WHAT A GREAT WORD! WOW!