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Backward and Blindfolded: Guest Shares Her Incredible Story

Arabella shares some monumental challenges and how she has found happiness thanks to her own introversion.

Let me set the scene. I’m writing this in my study looking out at the 2,000m Carpathian Mountain ridge outside my back door in Transylvania. Or I would be if the fog weren’t closing out everything beyond my garden fence; with the snow it’s a white-on-white view. My four cats are snoozing in their beds as the fire heats up the freezing room, and outside my world is still and silent.

For an introvert, this is an earthly paradise, don’t you think?

My Romanian neighbours don’t understand my liking for solitude. I am a cat in a land of dogs: they need the noise and chaos of a large family pack and are bemused by my choice to walk alone.

I was intensely grateful to live here during Covid lockdown, while some families in the cities were confined in apartments with only a sliver of sky visible. Many people suffered badly from forced isolation; humans are not designed for solo living.

But I sometimes wonder if I’m a natural introvert, or whether it was a learned response, a defence mechanism against family chaos. My parents were both alcoholics, my three siblings were all in their teens when I was born; wider family lived several hours away, and there were few children living locally. Primary school was a four-mile drive, boarding school, from age 11 to 17, was an hour’s walk from home. My only friends in the village were just down the hill, their house my refuge and second home until we moved away.

Alcoholics are not known for their consistency or reliability; one day my mother would read with me or let me hang around watching her cook; the next she’d shoo me away. ‘Don’t be so boring… Don’t make so much noise…’

When I first started writing books and blogs in 2019, my writing coach implored me to celebrate the milestones of this often long and lonely journey. Today, I'm proud to celebrate this, our 200th blog! I want to thank all of you, our readers, along with the many guest bloggers like Arabella and the countless other amazing people I've met along the way. If you have a moment, check out the very wide array of blogs on the website, along with the quizzes and resources available for you, the wonderful introvert community. - Steve Friedman

My father was rarely at home – he drove off in his shiny car every morning to run the family business, leaving my mother at home to cry lonely tears. This was not a good advert for married life or womanhood in general. My father drove off to have fun in his male world (it was a long time later that I learned that ‘fun’ was not the right word), apparently free and easy. Did I aspire to the woman’s role of wife, mother, hostess, homemaker? Have three guesses.

At some early stage, I must have realized that there was no reliable comfort from anyone in the house, so I learned to fend for myself. Outside I played unsupervised in the orchards, woods, and meadows around us or went down to Giles’s house to play with him. I climbed trees, dammed the little river, rode horses, and played with assorted animals, with or without Giles (or my school friend Katy when she came to stay).

In the house, I read. My mother taught me to read when I was three, and there were plenty of books in the house, so I was an omnivorous bookworm. I also developed an early and lasting addiction to television. For lack of any other source of socialization, I learned about other people through the small screen.

I wasn’t given the option of joining the family business, unlike my brothers – in those days marriage was still a career option for middle-class girls. We could be nurses (never doctors) or secretaries until we were swept up by a husband and children. Ironic that I ended up as editor of a business magazine, meeting entrepreneurs and corporate bosses – even Steve Jobs, once.

My sister rebelled and now has a mountain in Antarctica named after her. My brothers escaped to Vancouver Island and Thailand, and produced successful families with good wives.

When I was ten my father’s business imploded and the family disintegrated, leaving my mother, me, and the cat in a hotel but we were thrown out when I came down with German measles; we went to stay with Granny for a bit, then a saintly friend of my mother’s lent us a cottage. The cat had three kittens and life continued.

I muddled through, failing to get to Cambridge University and moving first to London, then to Liverpool – and finally, in 2010, to Transylvania. Every step another world away from my mother’s house.

All those devoured books had their effect – I found some ability to write. And the greatest blessing of all the wild childhood years was the development of a rich inner world – my imagination was largely unfettered. So despite having no self-confidence about anything at all, with no training and no knowledge of business, I did eventually fall into a job as a business magazine editor. By some fluke, I wasn’t too bad at it, and eventually won awards, mostly by not knowing what I was doing and – as a consequence – getting noticed for having an eccentric editorial style.

By more flukery my first book – ‘Liverpool, the first 1,000 years’ – got to No.2 in the local Waterstones’ Christmas bestseller ranking; I made a small living that way, writing more books about Liverpool, including my first children’s story.