Why I Decided To Become A Novelist
I think the reason why I write fiction is pretty much out there for public consumption on every site and URL where my bio and profile roams. The short version is George Lucas wrote Star Wars, Harrison Ford re-wrote one line in the love scene between Han Solo and Princess Leia, I got hooked by this escapist story-telling at the tender age of 14 and didn’t look back.
Twenty years passed between scribbling stories for myself (and not telling anyone), and committing full, public authorship – and another six years would go by before I was picked up for publication after I had made that public declaration. I changed my address during those six years, too: I moved to Canada.
Why did it take twenty years to decide?
Lack of guts, mostly.
I come from the most average middle-class work-hard-play-hard-drink-even-harder Australian family you’re likely to come across. Causacian, lilly white, and very normal. We weren’t even Roman Catholic. But both my parents remembered post-war economic depression times, as children, and they worked hard all their lives to ensure us two kids got everything we ever needed.
There was no money for college, but college was considered unnecessary. I was encouraged to get a good, steady job – preferably a government job with good benefits — straight out of high school, which I did. The overwhelming theme, always, was economic security. It wasn’t considered necessary to earn a great income, or have a career, as long as I had a job that looked after my necessary expenses and paid for health benefits.
I soaked up this philosophy throughout my childhood and it coloured most of my early adulthood. I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to be a success – who doesn’t? But Australians have odd ideas about anyone getting too big for their britches, and my parents were particularly careful about making sure my ego always stayed carefully in check. So I shelved all the high-falutin’ ideas I had about the arts, movies, acting, every vaguely creative career or form of living that had any appeal, because all of them, as my parents were swift to point out, didn’t pay worth a damn and would never support me the way a proper job would.
Zoom Past Fifteen Years.
I’ll pass over the next fifteen years quickly. They were a decade and a half of me in denial, trying to be “normal.” The entire time I was still secretly writing stories.
Two failed marriages proved I couldn’t do normal, but as a now-single mother with two kids, who had just survived a civil war in Bougainville, I was momentarily blinkered by the need to provide for my kids. My parents’ earliest teachings came crowding back stronger than ever: I went to law school. I was going to become a lawyer and earn the biggest bucks ever and my kids would never want for anything. Sound familiar?
I lasted two years, doing a double degree (Law/Commerce). I was pulling in Distinctions, and I was also the skinniest I had ever been.
I also had no life whatsoever. I studied, I took care of the kids, I slept sometimes. That was it. I kept telling myself the end result was worth it. I would become a lawyer and make so much money, I would be able to make it up to the kids for all the time I wasn’t spending with them.
Then I met a lawyer mother, who not only didn’t pick her kids up from daycare, she didn’t get home at night until after her kids were asleep. She worked twelve and fifteen hour days, including weekends. Oh, but the money was good, she freely admitted.
A week later, my kids got sick. Both of them at the same time, throwing up in stereo from opposite ends of the house. It was two weeks before exams.
I called a couple of student friends and asked them to take lecture notes for me, and tried to study in between washing sheets and emptying buckets. The kids slept on the sofa next to my desk, when they could sleep at all.
I was very, very tired and my mind wandered while I was sitting at the desk, and I ended up opening the wrong file directory. It was an old folder, the one where I stored all my fiction that I had written over the years.
That was all it took. I spent the next few hours reading and skimming those files, and making myself answer the hard questions: Why was I wasting time aiming for a career and a life I didn’t really want? What did I want? (Which was kinda obvious, sitting there reading those files, but I did need to define it for myself, at least that first time.)
It took hours to answer the questions to my own satisfaction and another day to build up the courage to act on them. It helped that I was still nursing sick kids and had a buffer of time to really psyche myself into it.
Then I quit university and told my family I was going to try and write fiction for a living. The profound and deadly silence that I got in response has pretty much been the same response I’ve got for the eighteen years since then, peppered with the occasional strained “That’s…um, great, Tracy.”
Which is exactly why it took me twenty years to make the leap. I am, in Australian terms, a gutless wonder. But I got there in the end, and the last eighteen years have paid back the first twenty. The last eighteen months as an indie author have restored my faith in my own ability to write and keep readers entertained.
I look forward to finding out what the next eighteen months and years have in store.