Being Nancy Drew and other literary obsessions

When I was about ten, I spent most of my waking hours fantasizing about being Nancy Drew, girl detective.  She not only had a proper, grown-up boyfriend and a CAR (unimaginable!) but also managed to escape from an almost infinite succession of hair-raising situations (sabotaged skis, runaway cars, being locked in a room with a poisonous spider) whilst remaining impossibly cool and, to my youthful eyes, incredibly glamorous.  I borrowed book after book from the library before a slightly more sophisticated friend lent me The Nancy Drew Files: an extension of the original series where the perils were even grittier and the boys even sexier.  Quite simply, I was Nancy Drew, as I walked around town in an imaginary leather jacket just like the one she wore in the books, with imaginary glossy hair as opposed to my pre-pubescent rat-tails, keeping an eye out for suspicious characters.

So far, so standard as far as childhood obsessions go.  The next one was slightly weirder however, coming as it did in the form of a warrior squirrel (please stay with me here!)  I became infatuated with Brian Jacques’ Redwall saga, a long series of books set in a world of animals who were almost constantly at war with each other and that involved a little more death and bloodshed than you might expect.  Lady Amber, the squirrel in question, was ballsy, outspoken and an utterly formidable fighter, and I wanted to be her more than anything, as she moved effortlessly through the forest, an untouchable and unseen assassin, taking out villainous rats with her slingshot and outfighting every male warrior around her.  With hindsight though perhaps it wasn’t so strange; in spite of – or maybe because of – my reasonable sedate and mundane lifestyle, in my head I’ve always been the action girl.  I’ve never, ever wanted to be the princess: I am Lara Croft, I am Ripley, I am Nancy Drew, girl detective.

Adulthood came, however, and the idea of living vicariously through various spirited literary characters disappeared.  Thank goodness, you might say – but in fact I know a number of people who still have these obsessions even now.  And actually, there’s a part of me that’s a bit sorry I no longer have daydreams in which I’m running across a mist-smothered moor shrieking “Heathcliff”.  Perhaps I’m too busy obsessing about real life to imagine existing as a fantastical figure any more, which would be pretty sad; or maybe I just haven’t yet found that perfect character who fulfils a missing part of my adult life.  Either way, there are definitely times when being someone else, if only in your own mind, can be immensely liberating and an awful lot of fun, and it’s something I should probably learn to do again.  So it seems there’s nothing for it but to return to the girl who never let my pre-adolescent self down.  Tomorrow morning as I set off for work, I’ll lower the (imaginary) soft-top on my convertible Skoda Fabia and cruise down the A2, ready to take on the world as Nancy Drew, girl detective.

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