Monday, 9 January 2012

Why I Became A Writer

EpiphanyG Gavin Mills @ @KnowingNose @The_Arn @m_s_collins how did you guys start writing? Short stories? Fanfics? Articles? Blog?


 Well, this will just wind up with my spamming Twitter trying to reply, so I'll do so here. I was born, and began writing. Well, nearly enough.


My earliest memories of writing are from Easter 1990 (age - 3 and 3/4s), and concerned the wacky adventures of Me, a Stegosaur (named Steggy), an Iguanodon (named Iggy), Jon Pertwee, Sooty and the Why Don't You gang who were taking on an evil witch in an abandoned theatre and canal. I am positive it is a lost classic.

That started as a journal, in which 3 year old Michael wrote about the many trips his family took, and things I'd seen on TV. I remember a glowing review of Beatrix Potter and E.T., for example. The journal went on into late 1990, and had my first thoughts on hearing I was to have a younger sibling, who later became my sister, Cat. It got lost somewhere, though I know it existed as recently as 2005.


 This is all came about from teaching myself to read and write. I don't know how I did that, and the school were very upset when I could it by five. "It made other kids feel stupid" or something. Mum was insistent dad read me Hacky the bloody SHetland Pony - a book so bad, Google hasn't even heard of it, might I add! - every single night. I think this bored both of us. Unlike his Arthurlie v GalaFairydean incident, instead of putting me off reading for life, I just started picking up the book myself. Then one day I could read. And copying till I could write came very quickly. Can't remember when, where or how long it took. By April 90 the writing was happening though.


 As I was growing up, I had a very overactive imagination. Family would encourage me to write it all down. So I did. And kept writing. Most of it would bring laughs, as it was rubbish. One story - involving an arch criminal who bumped off 60 characters (no exaggeration) in a hotel lounge one by one in 3 pages - made Aunt Theresa laugh herself hoarse. Not quite Christie back then. But kept writing anyway. When I was 10, and Mrs Walker took over our primary class, she asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said "writer". She claimed last time I saw her - sadly she is in poor health nowadays if she is still about - she said as soon as I said that, she knew I would be.


Mrs Walker was massively into creative arts as a way of learning, and introduced us all to arts and crafts, proper writing and crit sessions and the world of Goosebumps. I was rubbish at Arts and Crafts, no matter how much Mum might beg to differ. (And 2nd prize in an national Arts competition aged 11 was a fluke!) The world of Goosebumps and RL Stine was the first stepping stone that took me in this direction. What a great guy, that RL Stine is.


 The writing sessions were many. For Hallowe'en, Christmas, any time needed. At the time I never realised I was getting specialised treatment, but looking back I certainly was. For one, I was the only kid in the class allowed to use dialogue, as I knew how to use speech marks! Mrs Walker would go over everyones story, line by line, pointing out the good and bad of every bit. And it was very noticeable, even then, how much better my writing was becoming, compared to earlier on. Of course, I was still a long way from maturity - Mandy says I'm still a long way from maturity! - so it was still amateurish. It was just considered very promising. One story got taken about by the Council to showcase as the best work by Scottish kids! I never saw it again! Another was voted Best in the Class (a take on the old Hitchhiker story complete with a Norman Bates style hotel, years before I knew of the motifs or plots of either).


 A third marked me for life. It was Primary 7, and the story was about the Blitz. Mrs Walker was reading it aloud line by line, with comments, criticisms, compliments etc. For all her support she wasn't one to bullshit you. So, she was reading this story. It had two children, during the Blitz, one winds up evacuated and tries to find their friend, a fellow evacuee housed with the same women who disappears, and who finally finds his murdered corpse in a resevoir 40 years later. (I was a kid at the right time. Then people marvelled at my imagination. Five years later, it'd have been shrinks and anti-terror police!)


 We got to the pivotal end of Act One where the Main Characters Blitz pal dies in a raid: "It was morning, and Sally was dead." A loud "Oh no!" cried out from behind me. It was Claire, one of the girls in the year.

 "Got a fan" Mrs Walker chuckled.


And something stirred inside me. Hey, I could make people react to my writing!

 I think in that moment everything changed. But it took a while. For years after I'd still write everything, but it was a hobby. Nothing got kept, or it got lost on computers. Mostly all gone now, unless Mum has hoarded it somewhere all this time.

 Then one day, I was in me and Shims flat. It was a cold November, I was ill as usual, the black dog howling at the door. Probably drunk. Someone, I forget who, had basically out and asked me "Who do you plan to achieve anything if you just let the world run by?" Sitting there in my misery, I began to doodle. I still doodle, even if I am a shit artist. I went into a haze, and the next thing I knew, I had 5 pages sitting in front of me, written down in pencil. 20 minutes had passed. It had appeared from nowhere, but I'd written it without thinking.

 That story was The Fox-Squirrel, for which a link exists on the links section at the right of the screen.


 I read it over. It was actually bloody good, for where I was at that time.


 "That's it" I yelled. "I'm going to be a proper fucking writer, and I'm going to succeed, or God strike me down!"

 He hasn't yet.

 I then texted Shim to tell him I was taking the writing seriously. He shouted back. "You know I'm in the kitchen, right?" I do kind of zone out.


 From then on I started writing everything. A vast collection of short stories began piling up, more so when, much to my surprise, people began enjoying them, and publishing them, and I started to get fans. Me with fans! The mind boggles! A recent thing I had published got a comment on that "people like you make the world worth living in." I mean - it's astounding to think even a lowly young writer at the start of his career can have that kind of effect on anyone!


 In 2004, Bob Furnell responded to my many rants on Outpost Gallifrey by asking me if I'd like to write for his magazine. Despite my skills being a bit shit back then, he's held faith and kept with me over nearly a decade. That put me into non-fiction, as did being at uni. The blog came via me being a loud mouth, needing somewhere to promote my writing, and being asked to write on several matters.

 Vamp, my first book, was finished to a readable level in 2009. It's not published yet. Still got a lot of work to be done, but it, like all others, is a useful learning curve.

 This year I hope to write my first scripts. Haven't a clue yet. Terrifying. Fear the unknown. But once you tackle anything, you'd be surprised how much easier it becomes by practice.

 Take this 600 words a day thing. The hardest bit is the sitting down and opening the Word Doc. The writing 600 words bit is a doddle. They'll be edited, easier to edit something written down than in your head, and at the end you are 600 words further down the line in your experience.


 Plus, read. Read everything. As a wise person once said, you don't need to read everything in the world ever written, but the goal should be to attempt to do so.

 Writing, it's just that thing I've done, ever since I can remember having conscience thought. It's like being called to the priesthood, being called to be a writer. If I hold off for any period of time, I get proper withdrawal symptoms, like an actual addiction. And I spent most of my time in bed through this bloody ill health, so it turns helplessness into something. Getting something done.

 So that's how I started writing. But if you want to blame anyone - blame my mum, Mrs Walker (who I hope is out and about somewhere and healthier), and the girl Claire, who cried out at the death of Sally.


 And everyone else. A writer is never an island.