Sunday, 11 October 2015

How I started writing

... see, really, that title should read 'why I started writing it down'.

I've told myself stories for as long as I can remember. It was and is a great way to check out of boring situations. However, since voices in the head are never a good diagnosis, I kept the source of my entertainment to myself right through my childhood.

It took until my teens, in an all-girls' boarding school (yes, it was called The Mount ... laugh now, get it all out of your system), before I finally cracked and admitted to someone what my private sanity-saver was. Her response, which made me blink, was: "Why don't you write any of this stuff down?"

I'm pretty sure I gave her a funny look. Old people wrote books. I'd met several self-professed authors, and they were nearly as tedious as the other types of artistes that periodically showed up in my parents' circle. That, or they wrote serious things like Fibreglass Boats that you could use as a very successful self-defense weapon. It really hadn't seriously occurred to me.

I sat on this idea, thought about it, groused about it, threw up roadblocks around it, and generally chewed the cud for a month or so. Being fourteen, I suspect I threw some drama in the mix. I hated loathed was crap at was only moderately good at writing essays. A book was a hell of a lot longer than a 300-word essay.

I respected this friend's opinion. I don't generally respect any many of the opinions I'm offered, so on the rare occasions someone whose opinion I do respect offers me advice, I think about it. This is by no means a guarantee I'll follow it, but it will be taken on board.

This painful and long-drawn-out thought process eventually led to me surreptitiously scribbling odds and ends into a little notebook, about the size of my hand, that I kept on my person or under my pillow. It really was that small. It was that small because a page I could cover with one hand wasn't nearly as intimidating to fill as an A4 (letter size, for my North American readers) sheet.

It took me possibly as much as a year to graduate to actual A4 sheets for my writing. As this was in 1994 / 1995, when I say writing I really do mean writing, with a fountain pen. It took several more years before computer access was sufficiently, well, accessible that I started typing my books up from the longhand versions, and several years after that before storage solutions were reliable enough that I didn't keep losing (big) pieces to buggered floppy disks or corrupted files from creaky old school machines. A lot of my editing process in those early days occurred when I was (again) typing up a lost file from the hardcopy and my fingers wandered.

Graduating to A4 was a biggie. It meant, among other things, that I could write in my incredibly slow and almost interminable classes, all of which felt as if they were geared to the hard of thinking, and it would look as if I were taking notes. That was huge. For the first time in my formal education, I wasn't bored out of my tiny mind in my classes. I wrote five novels in five years (and, yes, thank you, passed my exams pretty credibly).

Were these novels any good? Hell no, they were awful. I owe an annoyingly huge debt of gratitude to the small circle of friends who long-sufferingly read them, made suggestions, let me read their stuff in exchange, made some more suggestions, and at no point ran away screaming.

However, having been written, and re-written, and edited, and ignored for a couple of years, and then re-written again after a lot more practice ... those early disasters stories formed the bones of both of the novels I have published today. And so far, the worst reader review I've had has been four stars.

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