Where My Stories Come From
I didn’t grow up planning to write novels. We weren’t the writing kind of family. We were the ‘Tell your story and make it snappy’ kind of family. I think for most of my youth, I was stumbling around trying to figure out who I was, unaware that the observations I was making and the stories I was telling with would one day become the bones of a career.
It took another decade or so of working in journalism and advertising before I would consider the possibility of writing fiction. By this stage I was living in Paris. I’d just spent twelve years in Tokyo followed by two years in London and I was ready for change, a big leap, a parachute jump without a helmet. I had a yearning, a burning need to create something of my own after years of writing what other people wanted me to write.
Don’t get me wrong. It was great training to write for a newspaper and then for advertising clients. These experiences taught me about structure, clarity and deadlines and more importantly, I learned not to be precious, that there’s always another way to put a sentence together, often a better way. But journalism and copywriting are both about writing for someone else, usually to sell an idea or a product. Commercial writing did not satisfy the need in me to give form to all the ideas in my head. I was about to burst with them.
So there I was in a Paris apartment with large French windows and a view of sky and rooftops. I was itching to tell my own stories but had no idea where to start. Then I met a novelist. She didn’t help or encourage me and she wasn’t in my life very long but just by meeting her, I realised that it was possible to write books for living. I clearly remember thinking, ‘I might give this a go.’
Of course, it took a lot of trial and error to figure out how to actually construct a novel, which in reality is not one story but many stories, the stories of many characters woven together through threads into a coherent and compelling narrative.
I was in Paris nine years before moving to London where my first and second books were published. But I am a tumbleweed. After another nine years in London, I moved to Sydney. All these countries and cultures have taught me a lot about human nature, the common elements that bind us, how we are all the same and yet different.
All this has certainly helped my writing but the real source, the vault of riches I return to time and time again is my childhood in New Zealand. Early family life is where I learned about the dynamics of relationship. It’s where I learned how to tell a story that can hold a listener’s attention.