Small Beginnings, 8: Stephen Whiteside

Stephen at time of writing the poem, with his boat

Stephen at time of writing the poem, with his boat

Below is a poem, “The Fur and Feather Sailing Club”, that I probably wrote when I was about 19 or 20. I forget exactly. It was certainly before I had had anything professionally published.

I grew up very much under the spell of Banjo Paterson – The Geebung Polo Club, The Man from Ironbark, Mulga Bill’s Bicycle, Clancy of the Overflow, The Man From Snowy River.
I also learned to sail as a boy, and loved the adventure and the independence that it offered me.
It is no surprise, then, that I wrote a Banjo Paterson-inspired sailing poem!
In many ways, this poem is a watery version of “The Geebung Polo Club”, although the overall shape/narrative is very much along the lines of “The Man From Snowy River”.
It is probably fair to say that not a huge amount has changed in my writing over the years. I still love narrative rhyming verse, though I generally write shorter poems these days, because that is what publishers want. I tend to play much more now with form and subject matter, but narrative rhyming verse is my default position – something I can always fall back to if all else fails!
The Fur and Feather Sailing Club
by Stephen Whiteside
(first two verses)
A splendid sight the clubhouse was, adorned with flapping flags,

Along the beach, the band in tartan trews;

The car park overflowing with Mercedes Benz and Jags,

Inside the briefing room, the anxious crews.

 

The myriad spectators sniffed the breeze and sipped champagne,

While their darling little children swallowed Coke,

And no-one seemed to notice, down a long-forgotten lane,

A dusty, dirty, battered Mini-Moke.

READ THE FULL POEM HEREThe Fur and Feather Sailing Club

 

Stephen Whiteside has been writing rhyming verse for many years. He writes for both adults and children. Many of his poems have been published in magazines or anthologies, both in Australia and overseas, or won awards. He has also self-published several volumes of verse.

In 2014, Walker books Australia published a collection of his poems for children, “’The Billy That Died With Its Boots On’ and Other Australian Verse”. In 2015, the book won a Golden Gumleaf for “Book of the Year” at the Australian Bush Laureate Awards during the Tamworth Country Music Festival.

Stephen is a great admirer of the Australian poet C. J. Dennis. He is President of the C. J. Dennis Society, and a key organiser of the annual Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival. The festival is held in October every year at Dennis’ former home in Toolangi, a small hamlet in the wooded hills 65 km east of Melbourne. In 2016 the festival will be celebrating the centenary of the publication in 1916 of “The Moods of Ginger Mick”.

Small beginnings, 6: : Adèle Geras

Aged about 9

Aged about 9

When I was a child, writing was never much on my mind. I was quite determined to be a STAR and spent most of my free time acting out with  my friends scenes we’d seen at the movies.  I was Ann Miller, or June Allyson, or Doris Day. This was in the Fifties,  before tv, when we went to the cinema as often as we could. We inhabited the world depicted in  the recent Coen brothers movie, HAIL CAESAR, and were fans particularly of musicals, and of the swimming star, Esther Williams.

But I did like writing little poems which, when they weren’t about about nymphs and Greek gods described storms or sunsets or effused about kittens. When I was about eight, I wrote my first actual long form story. It runs to 12 of neatly written A5 pages. Looking at it now, I admire the excellently neat handwriting, so full marks to whoever it was who taught me writing. This neatness  must also mean that I wrote it out in rough and then copied it. I was clearly aware that I was embarking on  A STORY.  I’m also rather impressed by the beginning: straight in with an introduction to the main character, a mouse called Squeaker de Whiskers Blanches.  At this time of my life, (about 1953, I guess) we visited Paris often. My uncle was an artist and my Dad loved taking me round art galleries, pontificating about who was good and who wasn’t. I was overwhelmed by the Louvre, so that’s where Squeaker lives, of course.

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At school, I did contribute poems to the school magazine and I always loved writing essays but the poetry bug only really hit me when I fell in love.  That’s when it gets most teenagers, I suppose and I was no different. My handwriting has deteriorated since the Squeaker days, but my poetry is full of emotion and very romantic and over the top.

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I also find it interesting that my preoccupations  haven’t changed much.IMG_1011This(above)  is basically a description of Brighton in various different moods: the buildings, the atmosphere  and so forth. I’ve always been partial to describing stuff and also interested in places.

 

IMG_1009This(right)  is about tulips, but it goes without saying that these tulips are full of meaning and import!  I still adore tulips.  I’m going to reproduce the poem here and you can giggle at the overthetopness of it all. It’s about flowers fading but oh, so much, much more in the hands of a lovesick seventeen year old…from the general gloom, I’m concluding I must recently have been dumped. I’ve forgotten the actual occasion but here’s what I wrote:

 

Purple in death, a tulip

withers itself black on my desk,

and the red of another

mottles to crimson of a heart in grief.

But the pale green stalks

torture themselves gently

in the cool glass, cool green glass

and apart, the third and red

picked with the others on

a day in May,  now

curves, and lays its flower,

broken, on the wood.

 

Adèle Geras lives in Cambridge. She’s written many books for children and young adults, including Two Fearsome Fairytales from France published by Christmas Press. Her latest book is The Dream Quilt published by Long Barn Books and she has a novel for adults coming in June, called Love or Nearest Offer, published by Quercus.

 

An interlude to introduce the Juvenilia Press

I’m delighted to learn today that the Small Beginnings series on this blog is being featured on the Facebook page and linked to the website of a wonderful specialist press publishing out of the University of NSW, the Juvenilia Press, which focusses on the very early writings of authors, including classic authors like Jane Austen! Here’s something about them:

The Juvenilia Press promotes the study of literary juvenilia, a category of literature that has been largely neglected. Its editions are slim volumes of early writings by children and adolescents (up to the approximate age of twenty), including published and unpublished works of young authors – both those who achieved greatness as adults and those who did not become adult writers but whose writing is full of percipience and zest.

Founded in 1994 by Juliet McMaster at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, the Press has since 2001 been based in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, and has an international team of contributing editors from Britain, Canada, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, New Zealand, the United States, and Australia.

The volumes are normally devoted to one author and are edited by an expert in the field, with the assistance of one or more students, usually postgraduates. Student involvement in the research and editorial process is an essential part of the pedagogic aim of the Juvenilia Press; and the illustrations, often executed by young aspiring artists or by the original young authors themselves, aim to capture the tone of the original productions. By contributing to the recovery, publication, and critical exploration of childhood writings, the Juvenilia Press actively promotes literary research and the professional development of students. At the same time, they endeavour to provide, for a wide audience, an insight into the creative energy of this rich and varied body of writing.

Do check them out on Facebook, and visit their website for more information: https://www.arts.unsw.edu.au/juvenilia/

 

Small Beginnings, 7: Simon Higgins

My ceaseless passion to tell stories and use images, myths and legends to excite and inspire, came online at an early age, thanks mostly to my mother. Though mum only much later published one book -her awesome memoirs of life in India, Africa and mid-revolutionary Cyprus- while a widow in a nursing home, she’d always been a gifted storyteller, the person who taught me to speak, draw, read and write.

By the age of three, I was a precocious (but creative) little monster.

One of the pictures accompanying this piece(right) shows me on the migrant ship bound for Australia, three 3 yr old Simonyears old, concentrating intensely on my first (illustrated) novel, which  mum later told me was a reboot, superhero style, of the legend of Robin Hood. In my version, Robin had weird powers, made animals help him fight the rich bad guys, and if cut with swords or shot with arrows, he could come back to life nine times, like a cat.

Apparently, a very dignified English fellow passenger, older fellow, quizzed me about my work, then commented, ‘Not the true story of Robin Hood, young chap.’ Mum, at age ninety in the nursing home, told me I leaned towards her and whispered, ‘He’s a bloody fool.’ To be honest, I still don’t always take criticism of my work that well. 🙂

 

When I was ten, by then a big comic/graphic novel fan, I went to hospital to have my tonsils out. While there, I wrote and illustrated my own unlicensed Marvel comic epic, ‘The Hulk Takes Asgard’ in which Thor’s brother Loki kidnaps Doctor Bruce Banner and unleashes him, brainwashed, as the spearhead of a coup to put himself on the throne. I remember being outraged when I came back from the toilet and caught three nurses sitting on my bed, hunched over my comic, reading intently. I’m fortunately a lot less precious about such things these days. I even like the fan fiction based on my stuff. 🙂

 

At twelve I entered an international poetry competition coordinated by the Women’s Weekly. One had to write a poem about Jose Feliciano, the blind guitarist (BTW he says ‘I’m blind’ so please, no silly PC ‘vision impaired’ lectures, thanks). The finalists were read to Jose, and the top ten global winners received autographed sets of his albums AND publication in the Women’s Weekly. Yeah, my first published work! Bagged with a poem, that in part, went like this:

 

A man alone, a famous star.

A man alone with his guitar.

He has no sight, yet he can see,

in a way that stuns and puzzles me

 

Anyhow, the important bit was that this made me a star at school for about twenty minutes, until our cricket team defeated our hated rival, and the fickle crowd forgot my greatness. Hosanna! Not for long. 🙂

 

IMG_3466Flash forward beyond several careers that I sometimes describe as ‘lives.’ Marketing manager, police officer, private investigator and so on. In my maturity I turned to writing full time and out tumbled the same obsessions. I trained in martial arts. No bows and arrows like Robin, but swords and unarmed combat. Several kinds.

 

I spent a lot of time in Asia, where I now live, in fact, and penned a bestseller called Moonshadow about a ninja who controlled animals, whose ally was a cat. The kind of beast that would have nine lives. Sound vaguely familiar? 🙂

 

I just saw my thirteenth novel published, DarkSpear, my first Visual Novel, text-centred but image, music and sound effects enhanced, an exciting, evolving medium. Seems I am still that same little boy storyteller; my DarkSpear heroine, living in the near future, has special powers, and is caught up in a conspiracy of the One World Government (the new rich bad guys).IMG_3467

 

What do I make of this? Put simply, I was born and this is what I am. The hiatus in between the early years and professional creativity was destined input time. I grabbed life experience, reading, other forms of learning, which informed my later, somewhat more refined work.

 

At the core, I remained that imagining, legend-rebooting, cartooning kid.

 

If people don’t get my stuff, they’re bloody fools.  🙂           

 

DarkSpear Bannerwww.simonhiggins.net

Small Beginnings, 5: Hazel Edwards

Hazel, aged 6

Hazel, aged 6

I always knew I wanted to be an author, but wasn’t sure how to do it.

My first writing was for the children’s page in the local newspaper where you got credits & certificates. I also belonged to the ABC Radio Argonauts children’s program, where stories were read out on the wireless. Probably I was about 8, when my first writing went in the newspaper. It was about a para long. But each Saturday morning I’d race to pull out the Children’s page. I’ve always been a messy newspaper reader.

I was fascinated that black squiggles on paper were the code to get inside a writer’s head.

My Grandma read to me and I learnt to read myself before I started school.

I started diaries on January 1st but they’d usually been forgotten by the end of that month.  I was more interested in other worlds. (That’s probably why I like co-writing now).

I can’t remember what I wrote about, because I was writing most of the time.

The first book-length story I remember finishing in about Grade 6 was a kind of Enid Blyton style mystery with a group of children down a mine. I didn’t know how to finish the story, so I left them there.

Maybe that’s why I now like well plotted mysteries.

Hazel’s latest books are her memoir ‘Not Just a Piece of Cake; Being an Author’   and the co-written ‘Hijabi Girl’. ‘Hippo!Hippo! the Musical’ is touring nationally.

http://www.hazeledwards.com/page/hijabi_girl.html

http://www.hazeledwards.com/page/not_just_a_piece_of_cake_being_an_author.html   ‘Anecdultery’ the first chapter in the memoir explains the challenges  of exaggerating childhood stories.

Small Beginnings, 4: Wendy Orr

Putting on play for parents

Putting on play for parents

I started writing stories and poems as soon as I learned to read and write in English, when I turned seven. Before that, as a Canadian Anglophone child going to school in France, I wrote only in French – my mother still has letters I wrote while she was in hospital – and I wrote only letters. But English was not simply the language we spoke at home, it was the language of stories: both bedtime books, and my father’s crazy made-up

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stories. Learning to read in it gave me the freedom to create my own.

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Spring Island text 1

From ‘Spring Island’

What I remember most is not the stories – or poems or plays – themselves, but the act of creating: the taste of the thoughtfully chewed pencil, the sun coming through the window onto my paper, the never being quite comfortable kneeling to work on the coffee table – but most of all, the joy of creating something new. Something I never doubted would be extraordinary, at least until I lost interest in it and moved on to the next piece. (The project to write a poem for every letter of the alphabet fizzled out after Puppies).  But some persevered for years. When I visited my parents in Canada after a US tour for the Nim’s Island movie premiere, my mother found the story I’d written at 8 or 9: ‘Spring Island. From the changes in handwriting in the notebooks, we guessed that it covered two school years.

I quite deliberately channeled this story when I was writing Nim’s Island: not so much the story itself – a girl and boy meet after running away from their orphanages, and live alone on an island until they get adopted and get horses. In fact, until I saw the notebooks I’d forgotten that there was a boy in the story, although I then remembered his primary purpose: to kill fish. I identified too strongly with the girl to have her do it. (Don’t condemn me, this was 1963. When Nim needs to eat a fish, she kills it herself.)

Spring Island Text 2

More from ‘Spring Island’

Instead, what I drew on was the psyche of the child who wrote the original story. The child who wanted to be competent, adventurous, resourceful, or, as I heard it in my head, ‘who could do stuff.’ (Which was not necessarily me in real life.)

Early on, I started writing poetry to express emotion, a habit I’ve continued till this day.

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Stories and plays were written more for fun; for that joy of creating a new world, finding evil villains and, as I got older, handsome heroes. But there was always the drive to find out

 

more as I explored these worlds, and even when I was revelling in a dramatic adventure or bossing the neighbourhood children into acting or watching my plays, I remember the strong sense of dedication and purpose. At twelve, I discovered Rosemary Sutcliff and started writing my own story of Roman Britain. We were living near the US Air Force Academy in Colorado at the time, so my long-suffering mother used to drive me to the library there to research Roman military history. I still have the notes, a clear image of the protagonist – and the memory of the conviction that I

Putting on play for neighbourhood children

Putting on play for neighbourhood children

would become a historical novelist.

Now, a frighteningly long period later, I’ve finally written the sort of book that the thirteen year-old me thought I might grow up to write. Dragonfly Song, to be published with Allen & Unwin in July, is set in on an Aegean island in 1450 BC – a very different setting and roughly fifteen hundred years earlier than the Roman era in Britain. However, I believe that everything we write with care and passion is laid down as a foundation for all the works that come later. The years of private poetry have led me to use sustained verse for the first time – and creating my young centurion’s world, through a mixture of research and imagination, was one of the steps that led me to this new story.

A young Wendy's notes for her Roman story

A young Wendy’s notes for her Roman story

Small Beginnings 3: Goldie Alexander

Goldie at age 16

Goldie at age 16

I didn’t really start writing my own stuff until quite late in life. Somehow there was nothing in my schooling that encouraged any form of creativity. If ever I tried to write an essay that contained a story, I was actively discouraged, told to leave that to ‘proper’ writers. We kids were instructed to keep to discursive essays.

So what I did when I was young, and still do when life gets me down, is read. And all that reading produced a wealth of imagination. I had always been a voracious reader. But when I was a kid reading was considered ‘a big waste of time’ when one ought to be doing something more ‘useful’. I got into so much trouble for always having a book with me, in fact was almost expelled from a small private school for calling the sewing teacher (I hated sewing)  a ’fat pig’ when she caught me reading under the desk instead of learning to hemstitch.

I read everything I could lay my hands on. Looking back, some books would have been regarded as inappropriate, such as ‘The Body’s Rapture’ by Jules Romains which I found in my mother’s bookshelf.   It did explain something about sex to a generation kept in blissful ignorance.

So my first true experience with writing came in my third year at university when, between countless and very boring essays, one assignment was to write a play. That was it. I fell in love with writing.

Goldie today

Goldie today

One would think all that early reading would have encouraged me to write wonderfully well right from the start. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I started with adult short stories, even had one accepted by ‘The Australian Literary Supplement’ that was never actually printed. But given I was now teaching English and History to secondary students and at the time there was so little written for kids in an Aussie setting I had a go at my first novel.

I don’t have it any more. All I can say is that it had a very long title – this was fashionable at the time – and questionable plot and characters. I remember when asked by a publisher what it was about, being left totally tongue tied.

What did fall into my lap was being commissioned by Greenhouse Publications in the early 90’s to write young adult novels.

I was given very specific instructions. They had to be no more than thirty two thousand words. The setting was to be contemporary. Though the story should show girls becoming more empowered – this was at the height of women’s lib – it must contain some romantic element.

Such specific instructions meant I had something to hang onto, as back then there were no creative writing classes. If it was still a matter of hit and miss, I had a terrific editor who ‘fixed up’ my mistakes.

So my very first novel called ‘EVERYTHING CHANGES’, and written under the pseudonym Gerri Lapin, opens like this:

****

JOIN DONABEL’S MUSICAL PRODUCTION OF GREASE

AUDITIONS FOR SPEAKING PARTS AND CHORUS FRIDAY 23 JUNE

“Christie and I pushed our way through the group of people milling about the noticeboard, then headed toward the canteen.

‘I saw that film on video last year’, Christie was saying. ‘The girls wear fab fifties gear; tight pants, dresses with necklines right down to here,’ she pointed to a spot barely above her waist, ’Tiny waists and full skirts.’

          We found Christie’s boyfriend Wayne, sprawled out on a chair, halfway through a Mars bar. ‘How about Donabel putting on its own production?’ Christie asked, flopping down beside him.  ‘Jo reckons we should get into it.’

***

Of course it had some romantic twists though everything ended in a satisfying way. I was so proud of my first novel that I showed it to all my friends. I remember one telling me he had picked it up in a bookshop.

I asked, ’Did you read it?’

He gave me a disdainful look. ‘Hardly,’ he said. ‘Not the sort of stuff that interests me.’

Ah well. Those books gave me, and quite a number of other well known writers, the start we needed. Since then, I have never stopped writing.

 

 

Goldie Alexander writes award winning short stories, articles, radio scripts, plays and books. Her novels are published both in Australia and overseas for readers of all ages. Her latest book, a fantasy/scifi novel for older children, is Cybertricks. Her books for adults include: ‘The Grevillea Murder Mysteries’ ‘Lilbet’s Romance’,  Dessi’s Romance’,Penelope’s Ghost

and ‘Mentoring Your Memoir’. Her first YA novel ‘Mavis Road Medley’ was a Notable CBCA, was shortlisted for by the Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs and is listed as one of the best YA books in the Victorian State Library. Her best known book for children is: ‘My Australian Story: Surviving Sydney Cove’. Her fiction for children includes three collections of short stories and several mysteries, fantasies and science fictions. Her other historical fictions include: ‘The Youngest Cameleer’, ‘That Stranger Next Door’, My Holocaust Story: Hanna’ and the verse novel ‘In Hades’. She has also co-authored a non-fiction book, The Business of Writing for Young People, with fellow writer Hazel Edwards.

Small Beginnings, 2: Nick Earls

A young Nick(foreground), with friends

A young Nick(foreground), with friends

I’ve taken Small Beginnings literally and gone back to the earliest existing examples of me coming to grips with the written word. In fact, written letters.

I turned up at school six weeks short of five years old. Storytelling was already a big part of my life by then – the revelation that it might actually be A JOB took another few years to happen. My family had always been big on books and full of stories, so I’d had a formula story that I’d told most days at Ballyholme Playgroup before lining up for one of the two classrooms at the sternly Victorian-looking Grangee School in 1968. In my stories, the central character, a bird called Tommy, would tumble into a toilet and be flushed all the way to a sewage treatment plant and another adventure among the poo and big orange diggers. My audience had all been four too, and what do four year olds love? Poo and big orange diggers. Since then,  I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so astute about writing effectively for a market.

jotter 1But Grangee wasn’t about stories, at least not that first day. It was about taking the first faltering step up the steep slope that led to literacy. I opened my school jotter (it says ‘Jotter’ on the front) and, as Mrs Pollock directed, wrote a page of ‘O’s. Note the big pink tick. Mission accomplished. Then I turned over and wrote a page of ‘X’s. Another tick. Then we went home for lunch.

Afterwards I was horrified to learn that I’d be going back. And not just going back – going back most days for the next twelve years. I thought I’d had the school experience. I’d turned up, done my page of ‘X’s and my page of ‘O’s, got my two ticks. What more could there be to know?

jotter 2Quite a bit, it turned out. How to manage a page, for a start, as my increasingly huge and truncated attempts to write ‘Dick Has the Dog’ demonstrate.

Less than two years later, I’d learned enough to write the work that could, with generous definitional stretching, be called my first book. It’s a journal of a holiday with my grandparents in Yorkshire. I can remember sitting and writing it each night at the kitchen tables of elderly relatives and family friends – people who had featured in the books of James Herriot – putting a lot of thought and work into it, even though it comes across as just the facts:

 

Tuesday 7th July 1970.
It was hot and sunny so we went to Knaresboro’ to see Mother Shiptons dropping well, wishing well and cave
In the afternoon we went to Ripon and looked round the Cathedral and then on to Studley Royal Park where there is a large herd of deer.


If it had been overcast, would we still have gone to  Knaresborough (I’m sure I picked up ‘Knaresboro’’ from a road sign)? I don’t know, but I can still remember the dropping well and its petrifying socks and teddy bears on strings. That stuff comes back to you in dreams at that age.

Since those days, I’ve turned to fiction, Grangee School has long closed and business seems to remain good at Mother Shipton’s, now in its 386th year as a tourist attraction. And my son, at the age of 6 1/2, is about to take a week off school for us to go to Hong Kong. In lieu of schoolwork, he’s been giving the assignment of keeping a journal of the trip.

Nick Earls has written more than twenty books for adults, teenagers and children. His latest project is the novella series Wisdom Tree, with a novella released (as a paper book, ebook and audiobook) on the first of each month from May to September 2016.

yorkshire journal

 

Small Beginnings 1: Dianne(Di) Bates

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Di as a child

The first writing I did as a child was, I’m told, a letter to Santa Claus. My mother said I asked for ‘a typewriter and a good temper’. I’m not sure how old I was, probably about 5 or 6. When I was in sixth grade at a new one-teacher school, I wrote an essay about my ideal home. After the teacher read it aloud, children came up to me in the playground and accused me of plagiarism. Their accusations hurt me so much I can’t remember working hard at writing thereafter.

However, in my first year of high school, I befriended Pamela, the daughter of our English head-teacher. Pamela and I loved a series that was currently showing on TV – Adventures in Paradise. We both imagined ourselves the love interest of the leading man, Troy Donaghue. Consequently we spent hours in the playground co-writing TV scripts where Troy Donaghue would fall in love with each of us.

I wish when I was young someone would have given me books – both to read and to write in. But books were simply absent from my home. Their substitute was hard work on our farm. The only books I read as a child were borrowed once a week when I took myself to the local public library. I don’t remember the librarian ever offering me any books to read other than my regular diet of Enid Blyton books. Nowadays I am never without a book in my hands! Unless I’m writing, of course.

Di Bates is the author of 130+ books, mostly for young readers. Her website, which she shares with her YA author husband, Bill Condon, is http://www.enterprisingwords.com.au. Since 2006, Di has been producing a twice monthly magazine, Buzz Words, for those in the Australian children’s book industry http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com She is a recipient of the Lady Cutler Award for distinguished services to children’s literature.

A new blog series, Small Beginnings: Introduction

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.

Me aged about 6, with older sister Beatrice(11) and my father.

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

Aged 16, with younger siblings Gabrielle and Bertrand.

Aged 16, with younger siblings Gabrielle(10) and Bertrand (8)

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 WP_20160425_11_29_40_Proprotested 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 WP_20160425_11_29_11_Prointended 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?