Going Back to the Start
I’m writing this first entry from several thousand feet above sea level, onboard a very shaky airbus en route to Melbourne. This is all the glamorous jetsetting you can expect during my stay in the kennel — the rest of these blogs will be written at a far more sensible height from my studio in St Kilda East. Today I’m flying back from Western Australia, where I’ve just spent a week swimming, eating fish n’ chips and talking about books at the Perth Writers Festival.
This was my first festival since my debut YA novel Fire in the Sea was published last year (still in all good bookshops [and possibly a few not-so-good bookshops]) and I had a great time. I listened to talks by fantastic writers, I appeared on panels with fantastic writers and I rubbed shoulders with far-more-famous-and-successful writers than myself. It’s now my favourite writers’ festival. (Okay, so it’s also my first — but what a great start!)
But, as much as I enjoyed hearing other writers say intelligent things, it was the chance to meet readers that was the festival highlight. Writing is a lonely occupation. Most of your best friends are imaginary and, as far as more sensible people are concerned, you seem to be spending most of your life sitting in a dark room, talking to yourself.
When I’m not writing books, I work from home as a journalist, writing articles for magazines. This means, between 9 and 5, my most intelligent conversations are usually with my dog. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are real people out there — people like you, quite possibly — who are actually reading the words that I’m writing.
This week, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of those people. Most of them were aged between 10 and 16 and all of them had intelligent and often surprising questions. I love questions. My favourite question, from a slightly shy 14-year-old girl, was “When is the sequel coming out?” (This is all the motivation I need to finish the next book.) Other questions included: “What is your favourite book?”, “Are you more scared of the sea or the sky?” and “Do you like rainbows?” (My answers: “I don’t know”, “I don’t know” and “yes, particularly double rainbows.”)
But the question that really got me thinking was from a 10-year-old boy, who asked: “When did you know you wanted to be a writer?”
I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I wrote my first book in year four. It was a 20 page science fiction story set in the 21st century — which we used to call “The Future” — and featured Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes and an elevator to the moon. I wish I still had a copy.
When I was pretending to clean out the garage recently, I found a notebook my mum bought for me when I was eight. She had put a label on the front which read: M.R Bartlett, Author. It took me another 20 years or so to get a book published, but I honestly think that was the only job description I ever wanted under my name. I grew up in Perth and going back there this time, revisiting places I spent time as a kid, really made wonder why I started feeling that way. Was it something about the place I was living? Was it the books I was reading? Was I dropped on my head at a crucial age?
This month, I’ll be writing quite a bit about the things that made me into a writer. (These things include boredom, ghosts and Doctor Who.) But I’ll also be very interested to hear about the things that made you interested in writing. Because, if you’re reading this blog, I’m kind of guessing you might like books. If you don’t write, then you probably read. Why? When did you start? When did you first know that books would be your thing?