I’m starting a great new series on this blog today. It’s called Small Beginnings and it’s a unique look at how authors and illustrators began creating–not their published work, but much earlier than that, as children, teenagers or even young adults (up to early twenties). I think that this is absolutely fascinating in terms of showing how an author or illustrator begins to shape their craft well before the time they even start to think about the possibility of sending off work for publication.
So I’ve asked a number of fellow authors and illustrators to write about what they created in their early years, and if they still have examples of such work, to show us extracts from them. The response has been fantastic and so I’m delighted to inaugurate the series today with something of mine, as an introduction to Small Beginnings.
I wrote a lot as a child and a teenager. I came to Australia from France with my parents and sisters when I was nearly five, and by then I could already read and write a little in French taught by my grandmother, who’d looked after me for some years(due to illness when I was a baby, making me unfit to stay in Indonesia where I’d been born and where my parents were working). I was already mad for stories–oral as well as written and I loved making up my own too. But it was arriving in Australia and starting to write in English that really got me going creatively speaking. I was lucky enough that in all the schools I went to, creative writing was very much encouraged, and at home, we were so surrounded by books and also by the great stories told by my parents that bathing in an atmosphere of story felt totally natural, though the idea that you could be a writer, as a job, didn’t really enter my head till I was well into my teens.
I don’t remember much of the very early stuff I wrote, but a few titles from primary school-age literary projects still stick in my mind: such as The Adventures of Princess Alicia–a lavishly illustrated, multi-episode comic strip story about a heroine who had two attributes I dearly wished I had–not, not a crown, but magic powers: and long blond hair (my hair was long but very dark!) I illustrated this masterpiece too I might add, in the days before I became embarassed by my lack of talent in that direction. And The Life of a Stamp, a
mystery/travel story centred on yes, a wandering stamp which gets posted on the wrong letters and gets in some sticky situations..There was The Twins’ Highland Holiday which was heavily influenced by Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, and there were several poems including one about a ladybird that I got a gold star for in class(I presented the poem written on the back of an illustration of a ladybird). Much of it I remember ‘publishing’ in little books, simply sheets of paper stapled up with hand-drawn covers, with perhaps a little stamp or sticker added to make it look more ‘official’. For a while I even ran a little story club at primary school which I called ‘The Bluebell Club’ (no doubt influenced by Blyton!) in which members read out their own stories. We even had a competition once in which the prize was a book, bought by my mother, who judged the competition–I was very miffed that she didn’t choose mine! As I loved the theatre–I used to go to after school drama classes–I also wrote a lot of plays, very often adaptations of fairy tales, which I wrote, directed and produced and forced my siblings to act in and my parents to watch. My mother was always very kind about these thespian efforts but my father could be quite sardonic about it, slow-hand-clapping and pointing out the narrative flaws rather loudly: an experience which hardened me up for later and occasional poor reviews!
Unfortunately none of that early writing was kept. It’s only when I was in mid-high school that I protested about parents’ tidying-up urge to chuck everything out and hung on to my writings like a determined limpet! So I have quite a few things from that time–lots of poems, a few short stories, and the beginning of a massive fantasy novel started when I was around 16(and in which I intended to reunite every mythology in the world: nothing like teenage ambition!). And then, from a little later, at 19, a picture book–the text written by me, the illustrations by my youngest sister, Gabrielle, who was 13 at the time. That one survives in its entirety(you can see some pages from it it below).
In all of this what I can see is a young writer who is trying her hand at all sorts of things, enjoying playing around with different forms, flitting around from fantasy to realism, contemporary to historical, light hearted to rather serious, long to short. The craft is rather wonky, but the passion and curiosity–yes, and persistence too!–is very much there. I see, in short, an apprenticeship taking place without my even being aware that it was happening; how could I, when it was so much fun?