How I came to writing…
This is a muse on how I came to be a writer, where it all started and what influences I have.
It all began long ago on a stormy night… ok not quite, but it was a long time ago for me. When I was only four years old, my mum took me and my brother, three years me senior, into the newsagent, (we called ‘sweetshop’) to choose a comic. I chose the ‘Dandy’ while my brother chose the ‘Buster’ (both, sadly, now defunct).
Only four years old, I was not able to read well, but the fantastic pictures made me want to read, and so, with school, badgering my mum, and my own pig headedness, I learned to read. I grew up without a television, so the ‘Dandy’ and ‘Buster’ were a constant companion for cartoons. In time, my brother decided that the quality of ‘Buster’ was declining and he swapped to ‘Dandy’s sister comic, the ‘Beano.’
For many years, ‘Dandy’ and ‘Beano’ were an obsession, with competing arguments over which was better, but also sharing the two between us brothers. After we read our own, we would swap and read each others. A box at the end of my bed was filled with ‘Dandy’ comics, and the bookshelf filled with annuals that aunties would buy every Christmas, along with other annuals of ‘Beezer’ and ‘Topper’ (also defunct ). While my friends were mad on ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles’ I was more interested in the weekly exploits of Korky the Cat or Desperate Dan.
In primary school, I was assessed at my reading level and was judged to be level G. The levels went from A through to O, and G for a starting level was quite good. It was here that I was introduced to Sheila K. McKullagh’s books of ‘Tim and the Hidden People.’ These were about Tim, who finds a key and while he has it, can see a whole collection of people, such as Wind Witches, a cat, called Tobias, Melinda the White Witch and many others. Later, Tim was replaced with Jessica and Arun. The authoress also wrote books about a boy called Nicholas who went into a picture to join some Buccaneers. All of these books I lapped up, reading the entire range. I loved cats at the time (strange, I know, but hey, I had no telly!) and read ‘Pyewacket’ by Rosemary Weir.
During the first year of primary school at aged seven, having been to an infant school, the teacher had us write a story every Monday. I enjoyed this greatly. Sometimes he would bring in an object for us and we would write about it. I remember him bringing in an unusual bottle, but he dropped it, so told us to write a story while he cleaned the broken glass up. Another time, he had a note, deliberately obscure, so we would write a story as if we had received that note and what it meant. The note read; “Bill of Portland Echo Cave Bring gem 1.30 Thursday” Now my taste for writing was beginning, but something magical was about to happen.
I was nine years old, third year Junior School (year five now) and the teacher told us to write a character. Her original idea was to be a little devil, but she then allowed many children, including myself to write other characters. I chose a Gnome. We wrote a profile, such as age, height, weight, eyes, etc – a process I still use when I have new characters to this day. It was from this exercise that Cedric the Gnome was born, He was forty years old and seven centimetres tall, with a green jacket, red hat (with bobble on) and white chinos (yay 80’s fashion!)
Every week we would write a new adventure with our little creature. I loved it so much, I would write more at home, even miss playtimes to write more. While other children wrote stories a few pages long, I would write and write. To this day, I have the stories with fantastic 9 year olds artwork within. Maybe I should scan them into here.
I knew then that I wanted to write books. But things were changing. My main toy had been the castle range of Lego, but then I began to play ‘Hero Quest.’ I had begun to get involved in fantasy. ‘Hero Quest’ led to ‘Advanced Hero Quest,’ to Games Workshop’s ‘Warhammer Fantasy Battle’ and ‘Warhammer Fantasy Rôleplay.’
As my years turned to teens, I read avidly, absorbing any writing on ‘Warhammer’ like a nerdy goblin. I created my own armies and then my own races. At school, I had entered secondary school, and relished the few times we were set stories to write.
We were studying mythology in English in first year (year seven now) and had to write a story about a knight. I made a character who would become a lead character in the fantasy novel that I work on now. Later, another story saw the first appearance of my lead heroine. At home I worked passionately on early plans for my novel. The map I drew in a rough notebook is the same as I use now for the novel, although many more locations have been added and names have been changed as I disliked them.
About the same time, I was playing Bullfrog’s ‘Syndicate’ game, about four agents who carry out special missions in a dystopian future. They are enhanced by cybernetics. A new idea for a novel was forming. One surname they had, I loved, so he became my lead character for the novel.
My writing was simple, influenced by places I had seen, with rough characters and I realised too that I was taking too much influence from the ‘Warhammer’ universe. I began to work on taking my fantasy away and making it my own. Names sounded awkward or just plain rubbish. Some names even sounded like food colouring when they were meant to be names of nations. I worry about names of races and places even now.
At college, I joined a writing group and it was fantastic. I wrote so many short stories that when it came to the end of the year and they put together a collection of the group’s stories they called the book ‘Alan and Co.’ Here I made many advances in my writing, including many restarts of my novels.
The older I got the more I read wider and wider. At about eleven I read Ian Fleming’s ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,’ then at thirteen I read Tolkien’s ‘Hobbit,’ closely followed by ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Now I will read anything, even material I do not agree with. I like to read wide, especially if it is something that I care about. So I have read news on the ‘Daily Mail’, ‘Sun’, ‘Telegraph’, ‘Guardian’, ‘Mirror’ and BBC. I visit political groups sites as diverse as Sinn Fein or BNP. I read any stories I get hold of, and even as a child would read the stories in ‘My Weekly’ and ‘Bella’. I feel that to read widely is always good, and besides, you never know where the next story will come from.
So over the years, I have tried several times with my Cedric. Once loved, never forgotten. He looks the same, but has changed much. One day I will return and try again with him. My fantasy world has been expanded, more races discovered, the gods written about and I know the characters as well as many people I know in the real world. Yet the basic map and many character names remain. The sci-fi story still has the same basic storyline, although now more developed, and researched. The baddies have changed from enemy agents to Al-Queda to IRA.
I always wanted to write a swashbuckling pirate novel, and in my early twenties began one. Sadly, my computer died on my and it was all lost, along with my background for other novels, short stories and poems. How I cursed the computer. Although I put that novel on a backburner I managed to recover enough to resume my fantasy and sci-fi novels.
Once, while at work, it was late and quiet. I sat down and began a horror novel. I saved it, and e-mailed it to myself, so that when I got home, I would have it. Then the computer died on me! I had an external hard drive in case the computer went wrong, but instead the external hard drive got a virus and so I lost all my writing again. This has thrown my back, and yet again, I am trying to rebuild my novels. Next time I will back the stuff up. I wish I knew more about how computers work.
©Copyright Alan Grace 2014
They always say that you should write about what you know, and many people say that they know nothing. I thought about this, and wondered why anyone would want to read about what little I know. Why would my job help in this? I presently work in a cider brewery and could think of no stories at all.
It was today that the answer came to me as I was digging out my old stories, and came upon one which I really love, about a fly. I realised I did write about what I know. When I wrote the story I was working in a factory that made, among other items, fly killers. I had been inspired to write the story. While not directly related to my job, the job had been the spark for a fantastic story.
That leads to the next item; many writers store away stories and notes for a long time. I NEVER throw anything away, much to my wife’s annoyance. Finding the old story inspired me to edit it and get it sent out. And when I found it, hidden in an old folder i found many other gems, i had thought long forgotten.
So to conclude, throw nothing away and look in the most unusual places and there is a story, hidden, like a diamond in a coal seam, just waiting to be chipped out and polished for the world to see.