Uncategorized

Sometimes the Memory is the Story…

My love affair with books began at a tender age. My brother and I were allocated a space along our parents’ bookshelf to stack our collection of books. I’d spend hours thumbing through them and dreaming myself into the pages before rearranging their order in a way I thought just. Come evening, I’d select one, climb onto my mother’s lap and listen to her read a story I’d heard a hundred times over.

Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, The Three Little Pigs, Jack and the Beanstalk. These were just some of the stories I had come to treasure. To the child in me, there was something spellbinding about the notion of a child-eating witch concealed behind an alluring house made from gingerbread and candy. It was frightening yet exciting at the same time and I couldn’t get enough.

Moreover, my cherished collection of fairytales helped to form some of the fondest of my childhood memories with my mother. Those moments snuggling up with her on the sofa and gazing at the pages as she turned them have become a part of me. And the essence of those stories has become the foundation for my own journey as a storyteller.

My childhood obsession with fantasy tales didn’t stop at books. Long before Netflix and other streaming options were available, free-to-air TV was exciting. We had a choice of four channels and that was it. Sounds extremely limited to the Netflix junkie, but at least we avoided choice paralysis, which is a phenomenon I regularly face nowadays.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scrolled through Netflix and clicked through to read a few blurbs only to become overwhelmed by the decision. This might sound strange, but I don’t like the idea of wasting “watch time” on a shitty show. I might spend up to 20 minutes scrolling, clicking, reading and procrastinating before finally giving up to move onto another activity – one that doesn’t involve too many options on offer.

Free TV in Australia back in the ‘70s and come Sunday, I’d curl up on the lounge with my mum and watch movies like Tarzan or an Elvis flick. My mother loved Elvis. Who could blame her? The guy oozed charisma. The best part about those years were the times my folks allowed me to stay up a little later to watch reruns of movies like Hans Christian Andersen, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, or my favorites, the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Wizard of Oz.

Miniature girls, flying cars, chocolate fountains and Oompa Loompas. Other worlds brimming with good and bad witches, talking brainless scarecrows, cowardly lions and a magic yellow brick road. Story heaven. That’s where I found myself while sprawled across the floor tangled in blankets and pillows before the telly way past my bedtime.

Midway through the movie I battled the tendrils of sleep clawing at me from behind my eyelids. I battled hard till the characters discovered their victorious resolutions and the credits scrolled across the screen. Then, I’d drop into bed feeling exhausted and satisfied, finally succumbing to sleep.

Looking back, I can see clearly how stories and books have played such an important role in my life. Stories have served as entertainment and inspiration. They have opened magical portals to unearthly realms and strengthened my imagination. They’ve taught me how to dream and about the beauty of love that exists in our world. They’ve also shown me the twisted depths of evil, vengeance and spite, as well as transporting me into the minds of characters I’ve come to love.

Stories demonstrate parts of the human condition we might otherwise miss because they stretch our perspectives, broaden our senses and nurture qualities such empathy and compassion. Following the journey of even a fictional character can impact us in unexpected ways, particularly when the story theme resonates.

The tween years saw me delving into the chirpy Sweet Valley High series. You know, the accounts of those gorgeous adolescent American twins Liz and Jessica? They had the most interesting life, what with their contrasting traits, boyfriends and other serious teenage dilemmas. For example, what to wear to the Prom night.

We don’t do Prom night here in Australia. We do the Formal. It’s probably something similar minus the corsage. My formal and I resembled an image not unlike Morticia – long black hair, red talons and a black velvety skin-tight mermaid style dress I bought in the city. Turned out, another girl wore the same dress. Oh, the drama! Not me, her. I couldn’t have cared less. She, on the other hand, took one look at me and ran into the bathroom crying. Lol!

Teenage dilemmas. Sweet Valley High eat your heart out.     

I was drawn to the dramatic, dark works of Virginia Andrews during my later teenage years. I’d read each book in The Dollanganger series several times over; the same holds true for The Casteel series. Ah, Heaven and Dark Angels. If there be ThornsSeeds of Yesterday. These stories are not of the feel-good variety that I enjoyed as a child, or a tween for that matter. They were satisfying nonetheless, even if they caused me to weep uncontrollably and feel an overwhelming sense of injustice and sorrow for the protagonists. How could Julian be such an ass?

Impact. 

Impact enough that I named my first born after one of the characters – and my Julian isn’t an ass. Well, most of the time. Nor is he a dancer as far as I know.

It wasn’t long before the racy and perverted pages of a Jackie Collins novel found itself in my hands. As in, all of them. I reread them a few times over too. God, how I loved Chances and Lovers and Gamblers. Gino Santangelo was like an Al Pacino in my mind … let’s not get into how much I love Pacino. He’s der bomb. Enough said.

“To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

  • Harold Robbins from A Stone for Danny Fisher.

A Stone for Danny Fisher is a story that looks at the effect of the Great Depression on a lower-middle class Jewish family. It’s also a story that will stay with you long after you finish the last page.

Captivating. Heartbreaking. Interesting. Inspiring. Impacting.

Some of my most comforting memories belong to bookstores. Real books with real pages. I can think of nothing better than to step into a bookstore and blend into the aisles for some serious book hunting. Rarely can I resist walking past a bookstore. The low-key independent ones are particularly alluring. They seem to emit a sense of warmth with their overstuffed shelves and nooks and crannies existing among the smell of real books wafting through the air. Much like hippie shops that are crammed to the brim with interesting and exotic items as the scent of incense curls into your being while you’re browsing.

Hippie shops stock some great reads, too. Usually, it’s where I head first – to the book section at the back of the shop to flick through the works written by some of our most enlightened philosophers and spiritual teachers. The Tarot cards and crystals are cool to look at too.  

Back to the traditional books and I have many authors to thank along my reading journey. Each book that has found me engrossed within its pages has laid the groundwork to create the writer I’ve become and the writer I will become as I continue to plow out my own writing career.

Authors like Anne Rice, David Baldacci, Sally Beaman, Dan Brown and Bryce Courtenay have made their mark, along with Thomas Harris, Jilliane Hoffman, John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell. I’ve enjoyed works by Julie Ellis, George R.R. Martin, Alice Sebold and Elie Wiesel. More recently, Elizabeth Hunter and Julie Kagawa. There are many more, but I’m afraid I might be here all day if I were to list all of them.

My reading tastes vary. I’ve never been one to stick with any genre. The same is true for my tastes in music and movies, although I am clear about my dislikes.

For instance, most American comedy flicks make me want to bang my head against a wall – it has to be pretty distinct and special from the standard to grab and keep me around. Which, let’s face it, rarely happens. I’m not into Bond movies and or anything that remotely resembles a Bond. And I don’t like Marvel movies much either (don’t hang me, Spiderman!).

I enjoy movies and stories that grip me, that make me feel something and that can keep my interest all the way to the end. I’m into stories that show me something different, entertain and teach me or stretch my perceptions in new ways. Mostly, I’m into stories that manage to etch a new memory I can’t forget.

Sometimes the memory is the story. Other times, it’s the moments in which the story is experienced. Either way, it becomes special.

Real books are like real people. You cannot replace the experience, the authenticity or the memories they create upon your life and imprint upon your soul.

What would we do without stories?          


Standard
writing

So, you think you can write?

 

annie-spratt-37788-unsplash

“I should write a book about my life; it would be a bestseller.”

“Yeah, I’ve always thought about writing a book someday.”

So, what are you waiting for – do it.

If I had a penny for every time that I heard those words uttered since I’ve been a writer, I might be on easy street by now. Everyone thinks they can a write a book. In fact, writing is probably the only profession that is taken in such a nonchalant manner that just about every person with a high school education thinks they too have what it takes to write books. Any fellow authors reading this post know exactly what I’m talking about.

Perhaps it is because writing is an exercise in which we all participate daily. We’re writing through our schooling and further studies and scribbling on post-it notes at work. We’re scrolling our screens bursting with words and stroking our keyboards to pen a response. We’re jotting down last-minute grocery lists, helping our children with their writing homework, and maybe even pouring our hearts into a journal at the end of each day.

Naturally, you’re a writer. When I listen to a piece of music that moves me, I’m not inclined to believe that I could make music that will produce the same result. The same holds true when I hear the beautiful sounds of a vocalist or admire the brush strokes of a gifted artist. I don’t pretend I can design a kick-ass book cover just because I play around with graphics sometimes, or that I can fix the transmission in my car because I can drive.

My husband has no desire to write a book; and trust me when I say he has experienced a colorful life that could knock the socks off any great story premise. He is Dutch (do I need to add more?). He left Holland behind and set off alone on a global adventure in his late twenties with ideas to travel and see more of this side of the world. Europe was his well-worn backyard. The U.S didn’t appeal to him, and he loved all things creepy-crawly and poisonous. Coming Downunder was a no-brainer.

He lived in New Zealand for a year before landing a sponsorship visa in Australia, during which time he met me. Exciting notions to travel across Australia in his rather pimped-up campervan quickly fizzled after that – but not without a hefty side of soul-searching on his part. In the end though, I guess I proved too much to resist because he never did embark on that intended trip, nor did he return to his homeland. I may have altered his plans just a little, but he still doesn’t want to write a book. That old seedy campervan, however, could write some eyebrow-raising tales, I’m sure.

Ah, the European in my life.

The truth is, if writing a book was as easy as most of the population believes, then writing a book would be pretty ordinary and all those folks wouldn’t just be shooting off at the mouth, they’d be too busy writing that damned book. But writing a book is anything but ordinary. Authors are anything but ordinary for that matter. I always thought I was a little peculiar… until I met other authors. Then, peculiar took on a whole new meaning.

It takes a particular type of person to not only write a book, but to persist at writing books. They are a legion of people belonging to an idiosyncratic faction obsessed with storytelling. We are slaves to the written word; vessels of passion striving to convey our message through story; and craving to uplift and transport our readers to other worlds. We are the individuals that function between long bouts of solitary hours living in our heads and real life.

Writing and publishing books is no easy task. I won’t lie. It requires fire, passion and faith. When asked, I tell people that it takes a lot of self-discipline, a truck load of tenacity, the uncanny ability to cultivate self-belief, and a hot, burning desire to improve on your craft. In short, persistence is a fitting word here.

Thinking back, my journey into writing began with Golden Book fairytales. I’d devour them over and over as a child and dream myself into the pages of mystical worlds. Stories enthralled me from a young age. When I was about fifteen-years-old, I sat down and began writing my first chapter by hand – a fast-paced take on a trashy Jackie Collins novel. The story lasted two entire pages until I realized there was a lot more to writing a book than what I had imagined. It was then that I could really appreciate the process authors go through in not only producing a book, but creating a captivating story that lasted for more than two pages.

It would be a very long time before I arrived at the moment that I sat before a blank screen and began to write my first book, Millie’s Angel. Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing at the time. All I knew was that I had to write, and that somehow, I could do this – I could write more than two pages of a book, and I could make it as great a story as I could at the time. More than that, I had to do it for myself. At the time I had reached a pivotal moment in my life. For some reason I knew that I had to embark on a journey that would forever change my life-path.

For every writer there is an underlying urge to tell a story. It’s like an invisible haul on your subconscious mind that you don’t realize is there until you quieten your thoughts, sit with the feeling and listen – and then you do and something else begins to happen. Suddenly, you’re writing the words and your entire being rejoices in a delicious explosion of delight and wonder. Tiny, zealous tingles burst through your body, bringing you to a place of knowing and confirming that now is the moment you had been awaited – you are a storyteller.

The feeling is unmistakable, and one that cannot ever be denied thereafter. My writing has changed a lot since I wrote Millie’s Angel. These days, I have a better understanding of the industry. My writing voice is stronger and unique to me. I know what I want from my characters and stories, and I am my harshest critic.

I have learned more about storytelling, genre tropes and reader expectations, and strive daily to deliver my best work to the page. For me and my stories it’s about my characters. I want to take readers on a journey through the choices my characters make; to introduce them to their innermost thoughts and feelings as the story unfolds and propels them into a fictitious world driven on the edge of reality.

Recently, I was one of the hosting authors on a panel for the Sydney Writer’s Festival. One woman asked how it was possible to create a “real” character in a fantasy world. Since I was the sole speculative fiction author among our panel and currently working on an epic futuristic world governed by vampires, her question was directed at me. I told her that when you bring layers and depth to your characters, and provide profound moments between them throughout the story, it is easy to interject traits and circumstances that feel real, even when they’re facing an oppressing life beneath a group of psychotic undead individuals!

Becoming my characters means my readers can relate to them. By injecting truth in my words, I can find and maintain my overarching story theme, which always encompasses a profound message I wish to bring to the story. This is who I am, and this is ultimately why I am a writer; it is my way of bringing something good into the world; a sense of hope and love through the words and worlds I create and the stories I tell. The world can never fall short on too much love. I write stories not because I think I should, or because one day I thought it was something cool that I could do. It takes a whole lot more than a passing pipedream to be a writer.

I write stories because without story I am nothing. I am a storyteller despite the tribulations that often accompany the life of a writer. The embers persevere and burn strong in my belly. Every day the fire and passion scorch my veins, and it’s never-ending and strong.

 

 

 

 

 

Standard