It was National Writing Day yesterday.
I have to confess, I was not aware of this until I logged onto Twitter yesterday morning (*smacks own hand*), but it got me to thinking: what inspired me to pick up a pen and a notebook and start writing stories?
(And I’m not being romantic; it really was a pen (or a pencil) and a notebook. I’m not so archaic that computers weren’t around then but we didn’t have one at home until the mid-nineties, and even that was second hand.)
Like many, I suspect, I owe my love of books to my family. I have very vivid memories of my Dad mimicking a train to the Thomas the Tank Engine theme music after reading me a bedtime story from the series (I was a massive Thomas fan – I still have Thomas the Tank Engine coathangers in my wardrobe, and the Ladybird books in storage at home).
I was always encouraged to read, and often received book tokens for birthdays and Christmases. We had a small bookshop in town (now sadly long gone) that stocked my favourite Point Horror books (I’m pretty sure this is also where I was first introduced to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, and became one of Stephen King’s Constant Readers). As for how I got into horror and fantasy, I have no idea whatsoever. My parents were neither bibliophiles nor alternatively-inclined – I suppose I’ve just always had a fascination with the creepy and macabre!
I’m not sure what I would have done without books growing up. I was an introverted only child, plagued by mild but constant bullying through most of my school years, mainly for looking slightly odd with my pageboy haircut, auburn hair, freckles, snaggle teeth and sticky-outy ear (singular – the other is more or less perfectly formed). Some long-forgotten comedian from my youth once named me ‘Goofy Rat’. He’s probably forgotten that. I never will.
I spent a lot of time in the local library (currently surviving but who knows for how long), especially in my mid-to-late teenage years when I used it as a place to escape from what could be a toxic environment at home.
Escapism. That’s what books became for me, and in turn, the writing of stories. No matter what was happening at home, or what had been said to me, or overheard through walls too thin to muffle the shouting, I always had a book to pick up, a world to escape to. When I was younger I’d go on adventures with the Secret Seven or the Famous Five, or climb up the Faraway Tree. When I was older I’d scare myself stupid with Pennywise, the Tommyknockers, Carrie, or spent whole nights immersed in the sights and sounds of New Orleans and Paris with Louis and Lestat (I did in fact stay up all night just to finish The Vampire Lestat – despite having an exam the next morning.)
I don’t know exactly what prompted me to write my first story – which wasn’t exactly a story, but something of a never-ending script about a couple of girls (which was me and my friend at the time) who met their favourite boy band (Take That… *flinches*). Romantic relationships ensued, of course. There were buckets of hormones poured into that story, which ended up filling around fifteen A4 notebooks.
In between that and my first attempt at writing a novel were my teenage years. Apparently they’re supposed to be the best years of your life, but I didn’t get that memo. If I ever feel the need to tell the story then I’ll type up a memoir (unlikely), but around the age of nineteen or twenty I found myself trapped in a toxic relationship, very lonely, very sad, and desperate for an escape. Some turn to alcohol. Some turn to drugs. Some turn to gambling or sex.
I turned to something that had been there all my life and decided I was going to write a novel.
Just like that.
I had no education in the business of creative writing, nor did I sit down to write it with the aim of publication. I wrote it for me and I bloody enjoyed it, all one-hundred-and-sixty-thousand words of it.
By the time I’d finished I had rid myself of He Who Shall Be Run Over Repeatedly Should He Ever Cross My Path Again and met a wonderful man who has since become my husband. He’s extremely supportive of my writing and encouraged me to submit aforementioned epic to agents and publishers.
Off went the manuscript. Back came the rejections. Or rather, rejection. Singular. Photocopied, dog-eared, generic.
I was gutted.
Looking back now I’m not the least bit surprised it was rejected, and frankly I cringe at the fact that I ever let the damned thing see the light of the day (I may, for shits and giggles, share an extract on my blog to be pointed and laughed at).
Think of all the guidelines and advice you’re given when submitting an MS, then imagine I did none of that and that’s what I sent out.
It didn’t stop me writing though. I had the bug and that was the end of it. I started another novel, invested in ‘How To’ books, signed up for a writing course, wrote another novel, submitted short stories and made a few shortlists, then I got accepted for my first publication. Pretty soon after I won a competition, got another story published. Kept on learning, kept on writing. Life had improved beyond measure from the days when I wrote to escape, but it didn’t stop me racking up the word count. I was hooked. Still am.
So good things do come from negative experiences. And great things definitely do come from books!
Update on Riley Pope 4 – The Case of Blue Ben: outline all but complete now, planned in for writing this weekend. Update on the never-ending WIP – still editing (but man I love Scrivener!)
Hope you all had a blessed summer solstice. I had a hot one, tramping around as I was in the heat to get my 10K steps in for #WalkAllOverCancer (you can sponsor me here don’t forget).