Of all the questions that kids ask me during my school author presentations, one throws me more than any other: when did you know you wanted to be a writer? (I know what you’re thinking – “Seriously, Al, that’s it? Not even ‘what’s your favourite book ever?’ or ‘how much money do you make?’ or ‘how old are you anyway?'”)
I think the reason I find it so difficult is that I know the answer is meant to be something along the lines of ‘always’ or ‘I wrote my first novel at the age of 4 and my mum has preserved it forever’. But that’s simply not true.
The answer is that I wrote my way into my ‘writer’ story in much the same way as I write my way into any story, feeling my way, following the tangents, trusting that the path will open up as I go.
To be clear, I’ve always liked writing. I have diaries with the requisite bad poetry and the weird little snippets of impressions about various people and events in my life. I got great marks in English at school, so I knew I was halfway okay at it (which always makes you like something, right?). I have always, always been a voracious reader.
But I thought that Other People became writers. Other, Much Smarter People. It simply never occurred to me that I could be one of them. I became a magazine features writer after I’d started at a publishing house as a secretary and then served a solid apprenticeship as a sub-editor. I got to the point where I realised I was sick of fixing other people’s words and that I could do better (What can I say? I was full of the confidence of youth…).
I started writing fiction a few years later because I decided I’d read so many books I might as well have a ‘crack at it’, and I discovered I liked it so much I couldn’t stop.
So when those kids ask me about when I knew I wanted to be a writer, I tell them that I think I always did, I just didn’t know how to admit it to myself. And then we talk about the importance of ‘having a crack’ at anything you think you might like to do.
It’s not quite the expected fairytale, but, then, I’ve always like a good twist.
What about you? When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?