Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Why do you write?

Hi, I'm Zoe. How many times have I asked myself this question - then again yesterday when I put myself through what I vowed I'll never do again - that last minute rush to put in an entry. This time for the Penguin/Varuna Scholarship. Not so frenzied this time as before, the last minute rush was a final edit when I was on the train to work. Wish me luck - and on with my first blog...

Why do we do anything? There are mostly many reasons but writing has always been one of my best friends. Over the years I have used writing to explore how I think or feel about a situation or a subject, to understand anothers' point of view and why they might act as they do. Somehow putting pen to paper makes you think about things differently. I try never to go off and confront someone before I've written it all down and decided whether I really want to say those things.

When I feel hurt or upset I write about it and I can make a bad situation end better, think up clever and witty retorts I will probably never get to use but which make me smile. It allows me to tell my friends why and how much I treasure their friendship. To those who are not my friends, I can write my side of the story whether they know/read it or not.

When I started writing stories with a view to being published I discovered the fun of writing for pleasure rather than purpose. I can be whomever I wish, live out all my fantasies and fall in love with the most wonderful men-all without leaving the comfort of my chair.

At eleven o'clock one night in November of 2005 with the rush of knowing I will actually finish a book for the first time in my life, my infinitely patient hubby (who had been asleep for three hours already) came to the door of my office and said "Aren't you going to come to bed (to get some sleep of course because my eyes were hanging out of my head) tonight?"

What did I say? "But I want to know what happens!" It's worse than reading a great book because you know the ending isn't there yet and if I want to know what happens I have to keep on writing. It's magic when my characters come to life, surprising me with what they do and say. They make me laugh and cry and I hate to let them go back into their box or wherever it is they go while life happens outside.

Welcome to the world of the Romantix where anything can happen and probably will.

So, why do you read? Why do you write? Are we writers really so different?

What do I write?

Interesting question. I'm glad you asked. I've tried a number of things since I learned to pick up a pencil and started reading everything I could get my hands on. Like lots of others, I wrote reams of teen angst and poems for friends at special times like weddings. My first publication was a poem in "Smith's Weekly" when I worked for the Legal Aid Office in Cairns. Please don't ask how long ago that was. I don't want to think about it.

Next I tried crime but soon found it wasn't for me. I wanted to write 'nice' stories or at least ones which didn't give me nightmares...

As I said in my earlier blog, my first full novel was written in November 2005. (If you are a writer and haven't tried at least once to do a NaNoWriMo, try it for fun.) By my first full novel, I mean the first one I actually wrote to 'The End'. It was a contemporary romance featuring a 'grease monkey' called Dan and Amanda. I was so proud... I couldn't think of any way to improve it. Yes, well that was a good feeling and I will be forever grateful that I didn't send it off to a publisher right away. I still love the story but - and that's a but as big as the one on the seat right now... there was no conflict. The course of true love ran smooth - just like it always happens in life - not.

The Romance Writers Australia run a short story competition every year - the top dozen or more are published in the "Little Gems" anthology. I revamped an assignment story and "Sauce for the Goose" was published in the Amethyst anthology of 2007 (a small part reserved for another 'grease monkey' and another Dan. The next year the gem was "Pearl". All I could hear in my head was "I'd like to be... under the sea..." and from out of that came "Fantasea Cave" a story about a mermaid which made it into Little Gems 2008. It was such fun to write. Who'd a thought it - me writing about a mermaid!

In the meantime, my local poetry group hosted the Australian Bush Poetry Championships for two years. We (the North Pine Bush Poets) published a fundraising anthology which included three of my poems. Well it was my baby, I wasn't going to put everyone else's poems in and not some of my own.

So here I am, two short stories and four poems published and working on the next big thing...

Where do I go from here? I entered competitions. They were good for me as a writer. The judges were sometimes more honest that your friends who kindly praise just about everything. And competitions where the judges take the time to comment are so much better than ones which just advertise the winners. Thank you Romance Writers Australia. Even when I didn't get the reaction I wanted, I learned from what the judges said. One judge told me that my voice was 'old fashioned'. What can I say, I am an old fashioned girl who's not into werewolves and vampires - I can imagine them giving me worse nightmares than the early crime ones. So, I'll leave them to Kiss Carson and her buddies.

Since I have an 'old fashioned' voice, and the advice is to write what you love to read, I went back to my early love of historical stories. I must have read every Jean Plaidy, Georgette Heyer and who was that French author who did a lot of great stories... I had subscribed to the BBC's Classic Drama DVD series - why did it take so long for me to realise my love was historicals?

It was Elizabeth Gaskell's North & South that finished the argument for me. It truly fascinated me. I researched my little heart out and learned so much about the early stages of the Industrial Revolution and the changes that it wrought on the world in so many areas. Not only in the work lives of people but also in the way they lived their entire lives, the way they thought, where they lived, who they could be... and "Torn" was born. It begins in Ireland in the mid 1800s against that backdrop. Maire (Mary) loses her family to the potato famine and comes to live in Moreton Bay. Hey Presto... I found my 'voice'!

Maybe why it took me so long to find my voice is that I read such a lot of different things. But that's got to be more than enough from me now - maybe another blog another time. You've got me all this week on the blog, maybe later on in the week, but for now, here's hoping your dreams come true for you, whatever they are.

Zoe