My psychologist in primary school had these cards with pictures of bears on them. There were bears of all types. There were angry bears, happy bears, small bears, muscular bears, mother bears. You put the cards into rings to prop them up.
It was like playing with toys. I would use the bears to narrate how I was feeling. It’s called sandbox therapy but I used it to vent stories. The psychologist would write it down and ended up typing it up for me. My story became sequels. I cannot remember the shape of the stories and whether they were tragic, or if any of the bears died. I think there was a scary forest where they all got lost at one stage.
After my brother and I watched Phantom Menace at the cinemas I began writing space opera. It was hardly original work. There were laser swords, an evil magician who would die at the end of each story but who would somehow come back to life at the beginning of the next story. By the end of the epic series he was nothing but an amputated skeleton in armor who needed to use telekinesis to fight with his laser sword.
Mum read sections of it and told me off for ripping off Star Wars.
I was 10 when I moved into my foster home. We lived in the bush and had no car. There was nothing to do on the property unless you liked horses. But there were books on a shelf in my bedroom. I discovered Treasure Island, The Hobbit, and other books I cannot remember.
I didn’t write so much, except for the mandatory stories in English class. They set the themes. One theme we were given was “the day the sun didn’t come up.”
Other kids were cute. They used fireworks to bring the sun back. But I personified my sun. My character flew into another galaxy, where the moon was in labour pains with baby sun.
Dad sun pissed off somewhere and baby sun came back to our galaxy. The end.
The teachers didn’t publish that one in the school magazine.
But there was another lengthy story. It was a tragic drama. You know how in the first 20 pages of The Philosopher’s Stone where Harry’s life is depressing and miserable? That was my story. It was a more intense version of Series of Unfortunate Events. The boy’s parents died or had accidents making them disabled. His friends died and the cubby house was burnt down. Even his foster mother was murdered.
My real foster mother hated the story. She thought it depressing.
I started writing a porno instead but my foster dad found it and read it aloud to everyone. What a jerk. It wasn’t ready to be shared. It was only the first draft.
The Tomorrow When the War Began series changed my life. I was 15 when I started reading, and even though it bored me the first 30 pages I became addicted. John Marsden influenced my voice more than anyone else. His tormented character Ellie Linton taught me the power of first person emotion. It was a disadvantage in later years as a journalist. His commas were excessive and his sentence structure windy.
But because of Mr Marsden I found my voice before I knew how to write structurally.
I started writing a book about teenagers in criminal gangs at high school. They fought for secret bases, hang-outs, and black market businesses. Their weapons were bow staffs and water pistols filled with Tabasco sauce. I kid you not.
In Writing Effectively I earned a High Distinction. This was in my first semester of my Bachelor of Arts. It’s nothing to brag about. The lecturer gave everyone HDs at the Logan campus because he didn’t want to bother marking our assignments. We wrote weekly essays about 200 words in length and brought them to class.
Once he wanted to read somebody’s essay to the class. He rifled through the papers and picked mine out. “This could get interesting,” I thought. It was a three paragraph piece called Why We Eat Chocolate Easter Eggs. The exercise was linking three paragraphs together. I didn’t think anyone but the Irish Catholic lecturer would be reading it.
“Can I read yours, Chris?”
I cannot remember what the first paragraph was, but it was safe and non-religious. “This is brilliant,” he said, finishing the paragraph. “Perfect.”
“Thank you,” I said nervously. And he read the second paragraph. When he finished he gasped.
“This is even better! Listen everyone, this is exactly what I’m telling you to do. This is absolutely brilliant. Chris has just shown us perfectly how to link the paragraph and make the next line engaging. Do you see?”
And then he read the third paragraph. “But when you eat these chocolate Easter eggs, remember it is to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus.” His voice darkened. “He died for our sins.”
He glared at me. “This is shit. What you’ve just done – only a wanker would do what you just did.” The lecturer shoved it down. It was no longer an example of a perfect essay.
This was in 2008. In the second semester I receive a Pass in Creative Writing 1. My lecturer also embarrasses me in my oral assignment because I didn’t know the difference between paraphrasing and referencing.
I read a futuristic story I was working on about a barbarian who is tamed and pushed into the World Emperor’s inner social circle for political motives. Think Battlefield Earth but without the aliens.
My teacher couldn’t hide the smirk.
To be continued.