Thursday, August 16, 2007

I'm a Writer, Now

I decided to be a writer soon after I learned to read. About age six. I just LOVED stories, still love a good story. At age eleven it occurred to me I'd better start doing something about it. I wrote a story. Can't remember the gist of it now, but the word 'Mystery' was in the title. It was about a deserted house not far from ours, and there's nothing more fascinating to children than empty, closed up houses. And this one could not be entered in any way, darn. Then at thirteen I thought I'd better actually try to SELL my fiction. I sent a story to a women's magazine and I don't remember that one either, but I kept sending them for years. In those days if they considered the story warranted it they'd send back a kind critique. A lot nicer than a standard rejection slip.
Yet I've never yet had a story published in that magazine. Fiction, that is. They did publish a factual article on their 'Reader's Story' page in the early 1980s, and a letter. The article was about the (internally) burnt-out house my husband and I bought cheap, cleaned, painted and renovated ourselves for a family home. Oh boy, I'll never forget the soot... The letter was a page long agreement with an idea proposed by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Probably tongue in cheek but it would work - the way to cut road accidents is to make it mandatory for everyone to paint their name, address and phone number on the sides of their cars!
Then when I was fifteen I won first prize in the local Eisteddfod short story competition. Never mind the story, I was very young. But the prize was a certificate and thirty shillings. I badly needed a new pair of shoes but I bought a book, "Gallipoli" by Alan Moorehead.
From sixteen to eighteen I did a correspondence course in creative writing. It took that long because I was working as a clerk in an office in town during the day and we lived on a farm outside of town. Which meant Dad, who also worked in town, drove me, my two brothers and sister in each morning (one brother working, one at school and sister at school), leaving at seven a.m., which meant getting up at six. Poor Mum always had to call me several times. She'd already been up to milk cows, I'd been awake half the night trying to do my assignments by the light of a kerosene lantern, in longhand. Later my grandmother gave me an ancient typewriter but I couldn't use that in the bedroom I shared with my sister, who is ten years younger. SO it was a slow process, but my tutor was wonderfully encouraging. And I kept sending stories to that darned magazine.
On Saturdays I'd sleep in, then spend the afternoon ironing my clothes that Mum had washed by hand the previous Monday. This was the 1950s and remember, we had no electricity. So we used a petrol iron, the kind you see in museums with a nifty little petrol tank stuck on the back. You lit it with a match... And the clothes I ironed were 50s fashions, full starched petticoats and full skirts. Now I'm old I never iron ANYTHING. I maintain I have better things to do, like writing. My family and friends accept me crumpled or not at all. Thank heaven for synthetic fabrics, I say.
I'll continue this fascinating diatribe another day! I seem to have wandered off the subject a little. All right, a lot.

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