Saturday, 25 July 2015

Why I write

I've done a couple or so of Chuck Wendig's terribleminds blog challenges in the past - like when I wrote The Forgotten Library - but I've not done one for a while. This week, he's set a non-fiction essay challenge; up to 1000 words on 'Why I Write.' Here goes...

To understand why I write NOW, I had to look back at what I've written in the past.

When I was a kid, I wrote stories. That way, I could control my world. In my stories - written (and illustrated) by hand on the back of cut-down blueprint paper my dad brought home from the drawing office - I wasn't a short, bespectacled brainbox who didn't have many friends. I could be a princess, a wizard, a beautiful mermaid, a spectator at a gladiator combat (history homework, aged 12). I could be whatever I wanted to be.

As a teenager, I wrote in diaries - something that continued well into my early twenties. That's where I told the page exactly how hard my life was, how I could never get a boy's attention, how much I hated not being tall and pretty. In my diary, I could put the world to rights. (They're are all still in the loft. I'd probably cringe if I read them now: sensible, balanced, mature person that I am.)

During the uni years, I wrote assignments. And love letters. Such a contrast. On the one hand, cold, impersonal lab reports about the microorganisms I wanted to make my career. On the other, hugely personal and private letters to the one I wanted to be with the most, full of daily trivia and angst and longing, filling the time between physical visits with words as though they would fill the aching void in my heart. (There's a box full of them in the loft, too...)

Almost ten years as a pharmaceutical microbiologist saw me writing operating procedures and training courses. Technical stuff; I had to get the facts right, leave no room for error. It felt sometimes as though I was fighting a straitjacket. Training course material was a bit different - opened up the scope for personalising what could have been dry facts, presenting them with humour and real-life examples. Thinking about it now, it relied on storytelling - about the time the engineers took the roof down in the clean room and covered the monitoring plates with mould spores. Or when a fly got trapped in a plate and we incubated it (unknowingly) until we could see its teeny-tiny footsteps tracking across the agar surface...

Followed by kids. Writing stopped. At least, until they started school. Then I started making up stories to entertain on sick days, jotting down both them and the silly poems that poured out of my head.

That's when it started getting serious.


I had to write - had to capture a story so if I was asked, I could 'tell it again!' Which led to wondering whether children other than my own would enjoy the same stories? Could I write something for an adult audience? Could I write a novel instead of a short?

I've never smoked (two ciggies in my entire life), taken no drugs except what the doctor ordered or the chemist sold, and I only partake in a weekend bottle of wine and occasional weeknight short... Not exactly what you'd describe as an addictive personality.

But I am hooked on words. I realise now they've always been there in one form or another - it's just taken me almost forty years to learn how to do it well enough to get published.

And boy, does being published feel good to this word junkie. One shot, and you want more. Oh, I recognise my own limitations - someone whose stories for children have been likened to Enid Blyton will never write a bestseller for these times - but I don't care.

Once the words are 'out there', just bring me a kid who'll stop me in the corridor at school to tell me what their favourite Granny Rainbow story is, because they'd actually love to find a little green man in the garden whose spaceship runs on sugar lumps. Or an adult who'll drop me a line to say how surprised they are by my gory yet glorious short, because I'm actually quite a nice person and how on earth did I come up with that idea?

Take a second or two to re-read the first para of this blog post again, about when I was a kid. What did I say? I wrote stories because 'I could control my world' and 'I could be whoever I wanted to be.'

Perhaps that's still the reason why I write; because I can change my ordinary world into something a little more extraordinary, just using words.

And it feels good when someone else likes it too.

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