My name is Renee Duke, the Renee being an offshoot of Irene (pronounced, preferably, if people simply must use it, in the British way, I-Reen-ee), but I never much liked the name ‘Irene’, and at some point in my teen years managed to train almost all but my parents to address me as ‘Renee’.
Born just ahead of a snowstorm to an English mother and Scottish father, I was the youngest child in my family and the only girl. Since brothers came with the house and the bulk of my same-age cousins and neighbourhood playmates were boys, I was somewhat of a tomboy growing up. I did play with dolls and hold tea parties, but my parents’ ability to deck me out in smocked frocks ended as soon as I could dress myself, after which attempts to get me into any kind of frock, or even a skirt, did not go well. (Unless the garment in question was a kilt. Kilts were okay.) And after the age of eleven, I did, grudgingly, have to accept wearing a skirt or summer frock to school, as they were part of the uniform. I wasn’t terribly keen on the felt hat, either, but at least it wasn’t a straw boater, like at some halls of learning.
Before that, of course, I attended primary schools, in which uniforms were not compulsory. Back in the late 1950s, some teachers of five- and six-year olds might have been pleased to have some of their charges come to them already able to read and write, but mine was not among them. We were supposed to learn the school’s way. No one had actually taught me to read, but my mother read to me and my brothers a lot and, as with Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird, it was something I just picked up. There wasn’t much the teacher could do about it, since the know-how was already there, but she could, and did, put the cursive writing on hold (that being the form my brothers used and I copied). I found printing much more laborious and time-consuming, but was forced to print until I reached what the school considered the ‘proper’ age to start cursive two years later.
That, however, was just the physical aspect of writing. The creative aspect – that of constructing a story in the mind and transferring it onto paper – came when I was about seven or eight and my teacher (a vast improvement over the earlier one) put several topic sentences on the board and told us to write a story about one of them. Until then I hadn’t really thought about how the books, magazine stories, and comic book scenarios I devoured came into being. They were just there for my enjoyment, like the crayons I coloured with and the toys I played with. That someone had thought them up, and that I could, too, was a revelation. I had, admittedly, told stories to people verbally, but those had only been retellings of stories I’d been told. Including one a four-year-old me treated fellow train passengers to whilst travelling up to Scotland with my mother and second brother. Instead of regaling my captive audience with one of my mother’s perfectly proper tales, I went with one of my father’s less than proper tales, which a man and a young woman sharing our carriage found amusing, but two old ladies did not. A mother-embarrassing point in the trip that I’m sure my father heard about when we got home.
But to get back to my first school composition, I went all out, coming up with not just a story about the life of a banana peel (my chosen subject), but chapters, chapter headings, page numbers, and illustrations (me being, at that time, under the delusion I could draw).
From then on, I wrote stories in school and out. In school, some teachers were more encouraging than others, most notably Mr. Smith of Garston Lane Primary, who had me do a series of early readers for the Infants class and showed me and three friends how to ink up the school printing press and roll out copies. His only mistake was to go off to the staff room and leave us to it, which resulted in him returning to four ink-covered eleven-year-olds.
I kept writing in my teens and early adult years, and began doing so professionally in the late seventies, with my first article appearing in The Living Message in 1978 and my first short story in The People’s Friend in 1981. Story and article sales to other magazines followed, but I did not turn my attention to books until I retired from teaching in 2012. My Side Trip sci-fi duology is aimed at young adults, the Time Rose time travel series, for which my latest release, Generations Five, is the prequel, at a slightly younger demographic, but adults enjoy my books too.