How did you become a writer, word nerd?
This is the question posed by writer Gabriela Pereira, who runs diyMFA, a site, book club, and writing community altogether – one which, incidentally, I just joined. I’m glad to have found it and I’m thrilled that the first prompt came minutes after.
So, how did I get mixed up in all this? I suppose it began as most stories do – in the childhood home.
My mother has always been a lover of literature and the arts, and she brought that love into my life from the moment it began. I credit her with my start in being fascinated with stories, both the telling and the listening. She shared some of her favourite literature with me, and always brought me books that challenged my understanding and my reading ability. When I was 6, she pressed C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe into my hands, and the doors were flung open wider than they had been before. It almost brought a concrete element to a feeling that has always been in my heart that I could never put into words. I glimpsed it between the printed letters on the pages. I sensed it on the edge of thought as I saw the scenes in my mind’s eye. It awakened something in me, and from that day, I would forever be homesick, longing for places I’ve never been and people I’ve never met.
I devoured the series, and in that same year, I wrote my first story. It was six sheets of A3 paper, each page divided into half – a picture and text. It was called Alan Albatross, and told the story of how he travelled in the cold, remote areas of the South Atlantic and the Antarctic, searching for and eventually finding a mate. As you can tell, my mother also brought me up on NatGeo! Several sequels followed, but none of them quite measured up to the original. Storytelling has been in my blood ever since. Whether it was writing them down, putting on plays, or wordpainting in my music, it was always in the back of my mind. How can I make other people feel the way I feel about how fictional characters feel?
The next year, really, was the catalyst. That was the year Mum gave me a copy of The Hobbit. There’s something about Tolkien’s writing and his world that burrowed its way into my heart from the moment I read the iconic first line, and it’s never left. If anything, it’s grown. I credit it with being the springboard from which my writing really took off in 2017, the year I became very involved with the Tolkien community online and wrote a great deal of fanfiction. The friends I made and the stories we told together changed everything. The places it took me too, in my imagination, in my heart, were dark caverns and beautiful vistas I’d never explored. There was a deep yearning in me to know every crack and crevice of that world, to be a part of that tale in the only way I knew how – the written word (and the musical note, but that’s another story). I was forever striving to comprehend this place so foreign yet so familiar, to put that deep sensation of homesickness into words, to know and tell their stories. I wasn’t yet creating a world so big, nor characters and relationships so complex, but the path was laid before my feet now, and I began to understand the seriousness of the undertaking that falls upon storytellers. It really did change everything.
Prior to that, I’d started writing and planning a novel (around 2011, if I recall correctly), and setting down ideas for others. Dystopian stories were all the rage at the time, and this was also a time period in which my interest in the Second World War began; as such, my fantasy stories ebbed in frequency in place of little vignettes of modern war and tragedy. I can’t say why that conflict, in particular, sparked it. Perhaps it’s the desperate interconnect that war brings between the mightiest nations and the smallest people, and all the millions of stories of those who lived and died in that time. I think it had an irrevocable effect on the way I tell stories. It made me more considerate of the grey areas of morality. It made me consider more deeply the nature of a story’s antagonist – after all, perhaps the most terrifying thing about the worst criminals during that war was the fact that they were humans, with the same wishes and dreams and loves as other humans, and yet with the capacity to inflict such egregious harm and suffering on others.
I think the combination of that interest plus my enduring love for Tolkien is why my stories have always taken place in times of war, even if the events are different, or the characters’ world is something entirely new. What I learned from both experiences has informed the way my novel has turned out. The story had been floundering for years, trying to fit into boxes I knew I could never understand. I went back to fantasy last year – wholly, completely – and it was restored. The characters’ journies, the themes, the locations, the gods and kings and the myths and the songs found their place. The tale now is completely unrecognisable from its 2011 conception. The main character has been fairly consistent, even in name; one character has remained beside her, though their gender and personality and relation to her have changed; another has remained constant only in his essence and distinct hair colour – all else is changed utterly.
So that’s how I became a writer – from a mother who brought me into the literary world, two authors who changed my life, a historical interest that changed my outlook on the world, an online community that dared me to go places with my writing that I’d never gone before, and a decision to remember and return to my roots that rescued the heart of my story from the depths of incompletion.
Incidentally, before even beginning this post, I’d made a list of points detailing why I write – sort of as a way for me to remember my origins and intent if ever I should falter on my journey. I’m reproducing it here.
Why I Write
- So that my daydreams and ruminations may become something tangible, and attain some sense of possibility.
- So I can share my dreams and ruminations with others, and we can commune through shared joys and wistfulness.
- I mostly write for myself, but I write for others too. Storytelling is one of our oldest arts, and to share what fascinates me, what sets my blood alight and my mind running, to do this art well and have others enjoy it in turn, is a core goal and desire.
- I write for the adventure, for the roads it takes me on.
- I write for the soul, so all can be said, and nothing wasted.
And there you have it.