Today’s Book and Brew takeover guest is Australian author Samantha Wood. Her first novel The Bay of Shadows is inspired by her love of words and in this guest post she explains her obsession with language. Enjoy.
Back in primary school, we were given the task of reading one book a week, with the option of keeping it longer if we needed more time to finish it.
A whole week?
I was done in 10 minutes, while more than six days yawned ahead of me before I could borrow another.
So I went to the library and did my own version of Oliver Twist:
“Please, Sir, may I have some more?”
The magic of books
Books were a magical other world into which I could disappear. A place peopled with marvellous, complex, and extraordinary characters. At first it was Jack London’s White Fang, a beautifully written and evocative novel about White Fang – half-dog, half-wolf – who is the last survivor of his litter. Alone in the frozen Yukon, he recalls the love and affection of a human, and so takes us with him in search of this one man. I read this book when I was 10 years old, and it has stayed with me ever since. Then I discovered the Greek myths. By the time I read Great Expectations I was hooked. Even back then I remember the impact it had on me. Through Dickens’ words I could feel Miss Havisham’s pain at being left at the altar, the same pain she carried with her through the dusty halls of Satis House, in the stained wedding dress she refused to take off. It was the beginning of a life-long passion for words.
When I was in high school I had my first real indication that I might do this as a career. My English teacher managed to teach Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to a bunch of Year Nine students through role play – Mercutio had never looked so menacing as when played by a gangly teenage boy armed with a plastic ruler as a sword – saw a spark of something in me and set herself the task of bringing to life my love of language. Enter the composition classes where you had 40 minutes to write about something, anything, just write. And so I did…
At the time, I had an idea that I would go into nursing – Heaven knows why this seemed an appropriate career for a daydreamer, but the decision was made for me in my final year of high school on account of my abysmal grasp of maths, chemistry and anything else science-related. I never saw writing – at least, that of a novelist – as a job option, so settled for something approximate when I started an undergraduate journalism course. Fast forward 20 years later and my life as a journalist is now a distant memory for two simple reasons: I was really bad at it – who wants to knock on a criminal’s door at three in the afternoon and ask if he has time for “a quick chat”? – and, because I was really bad at it, I’d rather not remember!
The beauty of writing
I do wish I was at the point where I knew the writing was good, or even halfway competent, but I’m accepting these days I may never get to that point. And I’m fine with that. That’s the beauty of writing – you can always go back and change it. The most important thing, as my high school English teacher told me all those years ago, is just to write something, anything. It doesn’t have to be any good, but as long as it’s there on the page you can go back and change it later. That also is the beauty of writing: revisions. The first draft is the idea, the subsequent drafts are the breathing of life into the story, in the same way Zeus breathed life into the clay figure of Pandora.
My writing space is a desk in the corner of the room, and a plastic Pokey looking down on me from atop the monitor. He’s been on every computer I’ve had for the past 20 years so I reckon he’s doing something right. I am at my happiest here, even on those frustrating days, because this is my dream come to life, word by word. I am finished by noon. I wish I could write all day, and have tried, but for me there is only a short burst of inspiration and then I’m done. The main problem with working from home is that you can become so easily immersed in what you are doing you can forget about the world out there. It is for the best of the writing, and sanity too, just to call it a day and go do something else.
I’m slow at writing, and I don’t think that will ever change. I’ve written three books now that have taken a total of 15 years, but it takes as long as it takes. Still, the most wonderful part is getting to the end and realising you’ve got a book. That’s the best bit. And I think if I couldn’t write I might have ended up like Miss Havisham wandering the halls of her ruined mansion, my heart forever searching for a place to call home.
Learn more about Samantha and her writing here.