old letter

Why I write

Books and writing are among my favourite interests. How did I begin and why do I keep coming back to writing, sometimes after silent years when I've been busy doing totally different things? I find the call to write is quite mysterious. Apart from childish efforts, I didn't pick up a pen in this way until I was into my late twenties. 

Becoming an author was as far from my reality as becoming an astronaut. I was the mother of three pre-schoolers, living in NZ in a suburb, far from amenities like libraries and bookshops. The only books I could get were stored on a dark shelf at the back of the local newsagency, and most of these were light reading. One day Fate let me find the short stories of Doris Lessing and Nadine Gordimer. I read these authors with awe and wonderment. Here were people, women, writing about a modern world that above all else was real. I was in Africa, recognizing the countries' struggles and pain. The fascinating thing about this truth was the way it sprang out of fictions; made-up stories. I recognized the art of this because nowhere else, ever, had I discovered such a skill in summing-up. I lived in daily confusion and muddle, yet these writers could explain life to me in a way that, regardless of its injustice or its violence, settled out beautifully, elegantly, into something I could understand. This wonderful common thing we apparently all shared hid in our hearts, in our feelings and emotions and in the ways in which we treated and were treated by fellow beings. These ideas I already understood from religious training, but my fiction writers didn't preach. Their clarity came from the words and actions of their characters. This was the art I discovered.  

How presumptuous of me to think I might emulate these writers. In my suburban street I was now the one with artistic pretensions. I had a little shelf of books about painters, an anthology of poetry and a few books propped open at classical sculptures which I think caused a bit of gossip. I loved my kids and my husband but often felt restless and confused. Writing was to be my lifeline. I grabbed it with both hands. Boldly I tried my hand at a short story, then another and found early publication. It was easier to be published in the 70s; still, I believe it was meant to be. Novels followed. Despite the interruptions, I have written ever since. Diaries, short stories, longer works.  I'm still hard at it. It's interesting to look back on my early work. Even then, many of my stories were concerned with people in search of love, and several have stood the test of time well enough to be reprinted at the millennium.

While times change, our hearts face the same yearnings as always. I find this thought unifying and comforting. It connects me both to past and future. At least this way, we are universal. We are all interested in love, whether our passion attaches itself to ideologies and work, to the divine, another human being or to our animal companions. And I can say that all my novels and many of my short stories have taken a sober view of love. For example The Fledgling, my novel, was about possessive love for a child and the need to let go. Then came The Love Contract, whose title refers to the tough compromises behind the frills and froth of the wedding day.

So writing is one of the lasting impulses in my varied life. When it's time to work again with an idea, it's as though I feel a compelling tap on the shoulder, reminding me not to waste a second but to go apart and await further instructions. I am like a secret agent on an unknown mission among strangers. These strangers will become first sketchy outline notes who stumble about uttering unconvincing lines of dialogue. This is the time of self-doubt. Yet glimpses of them, a face in profile, a thoughtful pose or problem suggests if I stick around I will get to know them in due course. My characters are on the same quest; to understand life and the search for happiness a little better. If the loss of some illusion is sometimes the price of insight, it's not such a bad deal.

I am close to what I write. It is fiction, shaped and changed as fiction has to be, but the experiences are based on reality, either my own or that of someone close to me. I believe we have to guard against living a false life. It is far too easy to become someone else's idea. Finding oneself can be unnerving, and it can require the most radical changes of ourselves and others. But it is the only way I know to be happy, and I'm grateful that I found writing because it has shown me truths and given me joy.



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