Sunday, December 6, 2009

Words, words, glorious words!

I’ve spent over sixty years wallowing in words. As a child, I used to amuse my family by coming out with words way beyond my years; words I’d only read and therefore mispronounced. As a four year old, I once pointed to a sign on a public toilet and loudly asked my mother, “What’s gentlemen?” I pronounced it gent- (with a hard g)-lemon with the accent on the le. Mother (and several bystanders) thought this very funny. Thereafter, Mother continually embarrassed me by repeating the story to every family member, neighbour and friend who stayed long enough to listen.

Like most children of my generation, I adored Enid Blyton and devoured her books so fast the family budget couldn’t cope. (It was about that time I discovered libraries.) I wanted to write stories just like hers, and I would tell anyone who asked that I wanted to be a "children's authoress" when I grew up.

Relatives, knowing my weakness for the printed word, supported my addiction by giving me books for birthdays and Christmases. As well as Blyton, I gobbled up Kipling, Ransome, Sutcliff and innumerable books of fairy tales. From Sutcliff I expanded to encompass other historical writers such as Elizabeth Goudge, and from there it was only a short step through historical and folkloric fantasy (Mary Stewart) to high fantasy (Tolkien, of course!). A few years later, marriage to a man who loved science fiction brought me to the masters of that genre – Asimov, E.E. (Doc) Smith, Moorcock and others – and for several decades I read little else.

Then I discovered Zelazny’s Amber series.

I was approaching middle age by then, and looking for new directions. I had a gut feeling that I could write this stuff, too. OK, maybe not as well as Zelazny or my other favourite authors, but I sure wanted to try. There was one rather tiresome problem: I didn’t have any stories. Over the years, I had written a little poetry and even had some published, but the muse of fiction writing seemed uninterested in me.

Frustrated, I concentrated on non-fiction writing instead. I’d long been involved in the performing arts, and when I was invited to write the dance column for Music Maker magazine, which later became Arts West (now sadly defunct) I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. This led to work for other magazines and newspapers, and for several years I set my novelistic aspirations aside.

In my early fifties, fresh out of a divorce, I did what more sensible and organised people do in their teens and twenties – I packed up my household and set off to backpack my way around the world. I visited Thailand, Nepal, the UK and the USA, then back to the UK to work and earn money to fund more travel. It was in Devon, while working at a hotel that resembled Fawlty Towers, that I was finally muse-struck.

I was “Executive Housekeeper”, a grand title for a general dogsbody who races around carting linen hither and thither. By the end of each day I was exhausted. Night after night, I would return to my room and collapse in front of Coronation Street and East Enders, too tired for any kind of social life. But one night, just as I was about to turn on the television, a sentence popped into my head. To be left a widow at the age of twenty-one may sound like a tragedy, it ran, but to be honest, I felt liberated by Reyal’s death. I knew at once that it was the start of a novel, and I sat down to write it.

I had no idea where the story would take me, although I knew from the start it was about a girl on another planet who set out on what was to be an around-the-world trip and was sold into slavery en route. Wryly, I realised that this was a reflection of my own situation. Like my heroine, Kryshli, I had little notion of where I was going or what I’d be called on to do next. Every evening the story meandered a little farther, showing me Kryshli’s world and its people, and every evening I couldn’t wait to sit down with my notebook to learn what happened next.

Kryshli’s Story
, of course, turned out to be a hopelessly unstructured tale with little in the way of plot or characterisation, an awful lot of telling and not much showing, and far more adverbs and adjectives than any decent writer would include. But nevertheless, it was, albeit a poor thing, mine own. It took me seven years to finish (I was amused to find that if I set the story aside for a few weeks or months, I would discover on my return that a similar time period had elapsed in Krishli’s life) and although I realised the novel’s shortcomings I could see that it was not entirely without merit.

Maybe I was a fiction writer, after all.

Not long after my return to Australia, I heard about the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre in the hills outside Perth, Western Australia. I joined groups there and soaked myself in learning. When I found that one of my favourite authors, Juliet Marillier, was going to run a novel writing course I couldn’t wait to sign on. The course was called Tough Love, a term that describes the kind of criticism a budding author needs.

That was in 2003, and since then, other authors, including Michèle Drouart, Dave Luckett and Glenda Larke, have also contributed to my learning process. I am continually amazed at how generous published authors are in sharing their expertise with aspiring writers.

Through courses and workshops at KSP and elsewhere, I learnt how to write better. Through various critiquing groups, I also learnt to take tough criticism on the chin and profit from it. I now belong to several writers groups and feel I have reached the stage at which I can help others who may be just starting their journeys into the wonderful world of speculative fiction writing. I can, I hope, give and receive peer group criticism in a professional and compassionate manner.

And now the journey continues with Egoboo. Through this blog, the five of us – Carol, Helen, Jo, Sarah and myself – hope to share some of the joys and woes of that journey with our friends. Please feel free to add your comments to our posts and take the opportunity to share your own journey, whether or not it involves writing, with us. Happy trails, my friends!


  1. Wow!!! Congratulations on your new blog and finish your great stories and novels

  2. Thanks Carole! So far the group, like other crit buddies, has shown me how much I have still to learn, so a major rewrite is coming on!

  3. There are similarities here to my own life. Except the muse never hit me. I like your new blog Satima. Wish you all luck.

  4. You have the Blog Muse on your shoulder Jo, to say nothing of the Cooking Muse!

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