Thursday, 26 March 2009

A Story About Stories

plum tree leaves after the storm

Since a few people asked about books, writing and me, I'll tell the story.

In my last post, I mentioned what I thought was a pretty well known fact, that I had written a book before. So it turns out this isn't as well known as I thought. It's funny the things we just assume people know, as if all our histories are written on our faces for everyone to see.

I've probably not mentioned it here for a long time but I remembered today I wrote a post in 2006 about why I gave up writing. You can read it here, if you're interested.


I think I have wanted to be a writer all my life. I know I took writing stories pretty seriously as a child and was often praised for the results by my teachers. I loved the praise as much as I loved the making up of stories, so I kept going. I'm not sure I ever finished a lot of stories, apart from those I had to write for school, but there were always words around me, in the books I read, in the stories I started, and in the dreams I had for myself. I said that when I grew up I wanted to be many things - a teacher, a nurse, all those things that little girls say, but really I wanted to be a writer.

I have no idea when I started saying 'I want to be a writer' but I'm sure it started before I hit my teens. By then I was passionate about great writers - the Bronte sisters in particular - and those books kept me from entirely losing the plot during the long, very lonely high school years. It was a case of me and the books against the world.

The bullied, frightened child will always need somewhere to hide. The further I retreated into books and dreams, the more certain I became that writing would save me somehow from a miserable and isolated existence that was my life at Eden High School.

Part of the problem with this beginning, of course, was the certainty that fame and fortune was the way to freedom, as far away as possible from small town high school and crippling loneliness. Years later, I would start to see that the dream of fame of fortune was ultimately immature and destructive, obscuring the actual desire to write.


Fast forward a decade - the mid 90s - and I was writing.

University was over and I was living in a group house, discovering, in a wide eyed way, the wonders of life outside of home, the church and all that that entailed. I told anyone who would listen that I was a writer. I was working in dead end temp jobs, trying desperately to delay entry into permanent employment because attaining that dream, literary fame and fortune, was just around the corner. The book I was writing was going to make me a star!

I knew I was on the right track because I was short listed for a short story prize and the writer who ran the writing group I was part of said good things about my work. Things were going to happen.

At the time, grunge was all the rage and in Australia, there were loads of young, grungy writers making big names for themselves. I thought I could be like them, but I was writing a nice book, about a girl growing up in a small town and dreaming of the Brontes. I was never going to be like the young, grungy writers.

In 1995, I entered the Vogel award with that book. The Vogel award is a lucrative, prestigious contest for an unpublished novel by an author under the age of thirty-five. I didn't win and I remember being crushed, as if I had really stood a chance. The novel was literally finished and printed out just days before entries closed. I think one or two friends did a quick edit and that was it. I really thought that was all there was to it.

daphne with water

By 1998, I was living in London, having escaped a disasterous, short-lived marriage. That was fine. Such things made good novelists, I was sure. A bit of tragedy, a dash of suffering, that's what writers needed.

I remember saying to a friend around that time, 'What else are all these experiences for if not for writing about them?

'For living?' he suggested. I've never forgotten it.

In London, I submitted a reworked version of the first novel to The Women's Press and then quickly left the country to come home, because I was homesick and lost.

My aunt forwarded a letter from the Women's Press months later. They were interested in the chapters I'd sent them and could I send more? Of course! I quickly tidied up the book again and sent it off.

A rejection promptly followed. They rejected it so did I. It was time to move on. First novels are notoriously self involved and poor and I decided I could do better.

The second and third novels never really got off the ground. There might have even been a fourth. I don't remember any more. Well into this decade, I was still plugging away. I'd had more success with short stories, being shortlisted but never winning.

The novel writing had to happen around life. I was a public servant by then, and had met Sean and settled down. The more settled I became, the more tortured the writing process became. Like the biological clock, the more years passed, the more desperate I felt. Every time someone asked me how the book was going, I felt the blood rush to my head and my ears would ring ferociously. There was no book. Just an endless stream of rejected drafts and a growing sense of failure.

I took courses. I attended workshops. I read books on writing. I sought inspiration from the writers I loved most.

And yet it wasn't happening. I was miserable. The post I linked to at the beginning tells about how hard it was for me and why I gave it up. But in short, I had to. I'd completely lost the ability to enjoy writing. I hated it. I was doing it because I'd backed myself into a corner. It's what I felt had to happen or else my life would be meaningless.

In mid 2004, I collapsed under the weight of my own expectation and knew that writing had to stop. Suddenly, I felt like I could breathe again. My time was my own - or more than it had been for a long time - and I could do anything I wanted.

What did I do? I dug out some old needles and began to relearn knitting.

And here I am.


I never said I'd give up writing for good. Blogging has been a wonderful way to keep up the act of writing in a way that's been so much fun for me. There's been no pressure, just the exploration of a craft, making friends and communicating.

I'm afraid, I'll admit, of opening up the door to that pressure again. I fear the moment I sit down at the computer to "write" as opposed, to just writing like I do here, the pressure will mount and I'll be back where I was in 2004. How would I fit it in? I work more now than I did back then. I have filled my life with so much.

I don't know what the answer is but I am starting to feel like there is another book in my future. Not today. And not tomorrow. But after that? Who knows? I just know that the dream has changed. It's less about winning major awards now and more about enjoying doing what, deep down, I've always suspected I'm best at.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. It's been a pleasure to write and to remember. I'm here right now, writing these words, because people read them and that means so much.