I can’t really remember much about a time when I couldn’t write. Grasping the pencil and making marks on a page that meant something, that could be read out loud, again and again, could be kept returned to and built on- was a wonder to me from the beginning. In a family of four kids in a small house in the suburbs, I found refuge quite often behind the lounge where I could sit with pencil and paper undisturbed for a while at least, and write ‘poems’ at first.
I think I was in first class when I presented the family with an alphabet that rhymed precariously. Then modelling on poems our parents read- from a singular treasury of verse of my father’s that ranged from bush verse to the English romantics and had had pride of place on the bookshelf, I began writing more ambitious poetry. This as well as first stories- I remember staying in the classroom at playtime when in Year 2 to complete my story I was so entranced with it, and then being commended for it. It caused me to write some twenty versions of that story It was only a dream…and then regale my long suffering family, stray aunts and uncles or grandparents who might be staying being included . May Gibbs may have contributed to some plot lines. It was my ‘bossy nanny’ the grandmother I both loved and feared, who said to me quite seriously after reading something I’d written aloud that ’one day Elizabeth you will be a writer!’ I think that kind of acknowledgement so early, that is some one believing in you, is significant.
Paper was precious and we used old exercise books from school that had not been completely filled to draw and to write. Unfortunately, during an annual clean up of the bedroom shared by three girls, all our precious junk, including my exercise books and papers were jettisoned while we were at the Saturday afternoon movie enjoying yet another Esther Williams or Yul Brynner movie! I was heart-broken then and I would be now, as what goes before has significance with what one is writing now. But I guess I must have not been completely deterred from forging on because in grade 3, I entered a competition to write a short story with the title of The Storm. The competition was run by a big department store, David Jones, in Sydney that actually had an art gallery on the top floor and must have in those days, valued the arts. The written piece of some 5 or 6 lines won a purple certificate and I treasured that award for many years. I must have secreted it somewhere to avoid clean ups for only recently I found my handwritten (dip penned) entry, The Storm, and smiled to myself to think that my very first young adult novel was also about a storm. Thunderwith that remains in continuous print after some some 27 years, became the movie that took me all the way to Hollywood, The Echo of Thunder with Judy Davis starring, was set in the Australian bush in stormy weather, both physical and emotional.
Small beginnings…I’ve tried to consider what makes someone a writer and why my ‘bestie’ in Year 7 in a library lesson (where books and their authors were kept behind glass) made a small book out of scraps of paper entitled The Book by famous author E K Rage – a pseudonym I am still to use. That at 12 to be a writer was an impossible dream and yet once I read beyond school texts (though grateful for the rich heritage of English literature studied at school), poetry writing began in earnest. It marks my life and does not need publication to help me try to make meaning of the world though it’s fair to say that poetry feeds every story I have written or am to write. Perhaps having poetry read aloud in that small bedroom when I was really young was my lucky small beginning.