Sunday, 30 June 2013

A Writer is Born

When I was in the 1st Grade, my teacher, Miss Jackson, informed us all of a monthly book club that allowed kids to choose, order and have books delivered right to their very own classrooms. I thought I had died and gone to heaven! There was Lucky Book Club (for youngsters like me -  I was 6 years old at the time) and Star Book Club (that were for a slightly older clientele, filled with chapter books, and novels). I recall going home with the brochure and excitedly showing my mother. Even as I type this, THIRTY years later - eep - I can vividly remember how giddy I was. Mail-order books! OMG!

My parents had always encouraged my reading and where possible (and affordable), I could buy a book from the bookstore. But as I graduated from having tales read to me to reading them on my own, I wasn't able to get my hands on books fast enough to satisfy my craving for the written word. Excited and nervous, I remember asking mum if I was allowed to order a book that very afternoon. Without remembering the exact conversation, I was so happy when she agreed. I think I even mentioned that it was a monthly service and could I use my pocket money to buy a book or two every month? As many things those days were linked to being a good boy/diligent student, I was over the moon when she agreed. After all, I WAS a good boy (mostly), and a brainy kid.

Now...what to order? I must have poured through that thin four-paged, double-sided brochure for the entire afternoon. It was my equivalent of looking through the display case of assorted ice-cream and being able to choose only one. Would I pick the best one? Oh, the dilemma!

Finally I choose the book, Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina. That was the one I wanted! But what did a 6 year old know about the mechanics of mail-order? When my mother shrugged her shoulders, I retreated to my bedroom, trying to figure it out. Frustrated and anxious that I might miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I decided to take a wild stab at it. So, I took out my craft scissors and carefully cut the little picture of the book that I wanted from the brochure and slipped it into the envelope along with the few dollars. Proud of my ingenuity, I rushed back to school the next day to hand it to my teacher.

I remember Miss Jackson opening the envelope and smiling. She may have even stifled a laugh. She took a new brochure and flipped it over to the back page to show me the order form that was there all along. She then gave me a lesson in filling out a coupon - a skill that still serves me to this day, and popped my order through.

I waited the week or so - it felt like a month - for the book to arrive. Then, during class one day, Miss Jackson held up the basket of freshly delivered books and read out the new owners' names. I blushed and hurried to the front of the class when she called my name out. Looking at my very first independently chosen and purchased book (as much as a kid my age could choose and purchase anything), I remember thinking that it was the glossiest book I'd ever seen. I was convinced it shone brighter than any other book I had on my shelf.

As you can imagine, I read and re-read the book a trillion times. From there my retail book addiction was born. Every month I would examine the new brochure and carefully order the next adventure I wanted to go on.

Even now, when I peruse the shelves of a bookstore, or the webpages of Amazon for my Kindle, I am reminded of that day. Somewhere in that experience, my adoration of books was ignited and my dream of being a writer was launched. And that dream is still very much alive today...

Saturday, 29 June 2013

For the Love of Horror!

It used to be frowned upon to admit that one liked watching horror films - it was usually accompanied by a snort of derision and a roll of the eyes, especially by serious film critics. And while there are plenty of awful, just awful, entries in the canon, there are also films that lock you into a metaphorical roller-coaster car and take you for a thrilling - and yes, horrifying, ride.

Any writer (or reader for that matter) of horror, thriller, action, science fiction and the like are either fans of scary movies or have at the very least plundered the storytelling archetypes inherent in the genre. When uber-successful directors such as JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon openly admit to having gorged on a diet of horror and sci-fi in their formative years, the genre suddenly achieves a modicum of gravitas.

When one thinks of a storyteller, one conjures the image of a campfire surrounded with eager listeners who are enraptured by the narrator's ability to lure, enthrall, surprise, frighten and ultimately delight them with a yarn. As a writer or filmmaker accomplishing the above emotions is most definitely a goal, if not 'the' goal of entertainment. (There's even a theory that being scared in a safe environment actually helps people deal with the real evils of the world).

I too find that studying (and unabashedly enjoying) the horror genre has definitely helped hone my idiosyncratic set of storytelling skills. I may not be a horror writer per se, but any narrator who wishes to take his or her readers on a Joseph Campbell (arche)type journey can surely learn a thing or two from those who have successfully scared the pants off the public! As a writer of fast-paced and Dickensian YA, it has assisted me in crafting an appropriately shadowy atmosphere.

So, count me in as another creative who both enjoys and has been influenced by all-things-scary.


Saturday, 22 June 2013

Going Dark

I'd love to start this blog entry with 'where did April and May go?' but I am acutely aware of where those months went! The fact that I've managed to capture June before it too slipped through my fingers gives me reason to celebrate.

So where was I? To put it succinctly, I was 'off the grid.'

For a blog that is equally about writing and living out your dreams, sometimes the commentary will abruptly stop dead in its tracks. As very few things in life follow a neat, linear passage, this is an inevitable turn of events - and one I have no doubt will be repeated many more times during my writing life.

Suffice it to say, during my blogging hiatus I was busy at work (day job); crafting a climax to my novel that is worthy of the build-up (and tearing out my hair just a little); and taking care of my father's increasing medical appointments. That last one has sent me into a minor tailspin. Those who read this and have been through their own sobering point-of-no-return reversal of becoming a parent to your parents knows how heady, and heavy, that can be. Add a dash of exercise, a smidgen of socializing and there you have it.

So, this little entry is my blogging equivalent of dipping a toe back into the water. As my fingers bang out these words I feel a wonderful sense of relief. I feel instantly and gloriously at home.

It's nice to be back.