The Princess-Knight is one of my favourite picture books.
I wanted to be a knight for as long as I can remember.
My oldest dream. My strangest dream.
There was only one problem: I was a girl. I was meant to wear hair garlands and grow my nails.
One of my first memories is seeing the president executed by firing squad.
There was so much blood and people were cheering and clapping. The sky was full of fireworks and the blasts of the machine guns I’d been hearing for more nights than I could then count had stopped.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s that early childhood event that triggered my love of murder mysteries. Maybe I wanted to understand how death can have so many faces, and how could wrong and right be the two sides of the same coin.
Up until I turned six and my parents had to drag me to school in a stiff uniform and itchy white tights, I lived with my maternal grandparents on a vast country estate in Southern Romania. We had a vineyard, and one of my best memories is lying in the tall grass, in the shade of the wild apple trees, on the sun-drenched hills. Or reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin in my reading hut, where I sneaked with an old blanket to read by candlelight.
The grapes were the best I’d ever tasted. The wine was even better. And I was always covered in bloody scratches from trying to rich the fattest blackberries right in the heart of the thorny bushes.
I still long for my grandparents. My grandmother, a carer and a dressmaker, made rose petal jams and loved fried fish and melons. My grandfather, an ex military pilot, watchmaker, and silversmith, often stayed up all night to read books.
As a child, I didn’t have a set bedtime, I could pick up any book I wanted and, from a young age, I was part of a wine culture that only wine makers really understand. We made wine. We sold wine. And we LOVED wine.
After a bliss childhood in the country, there came the nightmare of city life. I hated the cement shapes people called homes and the absence of trees left me gasping for air. I was like a fish on shore – my every breath was a dying grunt.
Then came the EVEN WORSE things. I was made to wear tight shoes, and there wasn’t enough grass in the new cement world to dip my feet into. I had to leave my pets behind: my cats, my dogs, my ducklings. And, worst of all, I had to go to school.
My parents were much stricter than my grandparents had been. My mother was a teacher, my father an engineer and footballer. He would soon follow a lifelong aspiration and become a successful football referee.
Private tuition was probably the worst part of my punishment. I was a six year old who recited French rhymes, a ten year old who wrote stories in English, but not even the sharpest mathematicians could grant me entrance in the world of algebra and geometry. I simply dreaded Maths.
I dreaded school. Mostly because it never ended. All through primary school, my tutors were my playmates. Several teachers told my mother that I was showing some mild inclination towards languages and writing. And she has been encouraging me to follow this dream ever since.
Writing came easy to me. I started with poems. I joined a writing group and a drama class. I had my first poem published when I was 13. At 16, I had completed an entire collection of poems and sent it to a national competition, without mentioning my age.
To everyone’s astonishment, including my own, I won the first prize.
It was the second time I’d earned money for writing. Little did I know that I’d have to wait a long time to start earning from writing again.
But then, I was full of hope. I was an aspiring movie director. I dropped out at the last minute, choosing English Literature instead. It was a bit of a last option. A kind of punishment for not being brave enough.
It was a decision I regretted for many years, but I tell myself that it doesn’t matter – because I found my path anyway.
And that road took me to London.
Up until then, my parents were the driving force behind everything I did. They had the right connections. They knew the right things to do in any situation, the right people and the right places.
But they weren’t right about EVERYTHING.
They were wrong about ME. Just as I was wrong about them.
See, I was able to survive on my own, out of my comfort zone. I could earn my own money and make sensible decisions.
I wasn’t a princess. I was a warrior.
And they were able to love me despite not following in their footsteps. Despite being a princess-knight after all.
Eleven years later, I am the published author of a children’s novel and numerous articles and short stories. I have another novel on the way – yes, a murder mystery.
I love working from the comfort of my duvet, ignoring the rumbling and shattering sounds coming from my broom cupboard, where Christmas decorations, golf clubs and boxes of clutter huddle together in a very artistic mess.
So, this is me.
I haven’t always been a writer.
In fact I used to keep my badly typed stories in the same closet with the clothes I loved but didn’t dare to wear.
Because I thought I wasn’t smart enough or pretty enough.
Because I thought being me is wrong.
Because I thought someone as shy and insecure as me would only get laughed at.
I still worry about that sometimes.
But now I care less about pleasing others and more about being happy.
I was afraid of being a writer.
What I didn’t know is that I already was one.
While I was too busy fighting a war with God, I was holding the key to the life I wanted.
So one day I took a big breath and opened a door. And then another. And another.
I am still opening doors – cursed to forever enter rooms and not settle in any of them; wandering in search of new stories, new emotions, new truths.
Writing the end line is not THE END, just like writing the first line of a novel is just one of many beginnings. Sometimes I’m simply in search of something I want to long. And this curse and blessing are, like life and death, the two faces of the same coin.
I hope one of them will be YOUR door. And I hope that I’ll stay long enough that you find something in me you’ve been looking for.
Something that will make you turn the page. Now that is, in truth, my greatest wish.