|Cover of All Quiet On The Western Front|
We write for different reasons; our motivations are many and varied. So, what drives you?
I'll play the lead and tell you what drives me, shall I?
Words have fascinated me since I began to understand what they were, their power, their beauty, their precision and duplicity. I read from an early age and, with no intervention by television into my life until I was 14, I read voraciously. In fact, I exhausted my local library's children's section by the age of 11 and dared ask the fierce librarian if I could borrow books from the adult section. I was a regular visitor, of course, and well known to this large and intimidating woman, so she allowed me this privilege on certain conditions: I was to pass the books I borrowed before her personal scrutiny and I could borrow only one at a time. My first title was All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. Anyone who's read this classic will be aware of its content, which includes incidents involving prostitutes as well as the necessary brutality of the First World War. Looking back as an adult, I can find no reason, beyond ignorance of its contents, for this severe lady to allow me to read such a disturbing book. But, no matter, I did and thus started on a road that has twisted and turned its way through adult literature to include almost every genre ever classified in both fiction and non-fiction.
When I was in the Royal Air Force, and worked, as a teenager, for five men in their mid-fifties approaching retirement from the service, I was often faced with empty days and took to visiting the camp library. By the end of my service at RAF Lyneham, I'd read every book on the shelves. Of course, I can now recall only a few of those titles but the information, imagination and content all wormed their way into my brain, to help form the man I've become.
So much for my introduction to reading; something I do now whenever I find the time.
But what about my own motivation for stringing words together and placing them on paper? At school I carried my love of language over into my studies, so that English came to be my favourite subject, and the one in which I excelled. Most of the other stuff seemed no more than an attempt to fill my head with information I could easily glean from encyclopaedias and I had difficulty understanding why we spent so much time on remembering what seemed to me irrelevant facts. If I needed to know the annual rainfall in Argentina, I could find it in a book: I didn't need to learn it by heart. This attitude, together with a singular intellectual rebellion that was left unnurtured by my teachers, and coupled with the death of my mother two days after my 16th birthday and only weeks before I faced examinations that would determine my future in the world of work, meant I left school at 16 with few qualifications. But I did enjoy and was encouraged to develop English as a means of communication and expression. I suspect that the attractive nature of my young English teacher and her habit of leaning forward over the desk, exposing her cleavage in the opening of her loose blouses, had some formative effects on a teenage boy. But, that aside, my first success at school was the winning of a cup for an essay in a competition I entered at 14.
I had always enjoyed writing essays, which were, in fact, often opportunities for expressing imaginative ideas in the form of stories. My mother would listen to my efforts when these were written for homework and was always encouraging. With her loss and the poor exam results, coupled with the change in life at home, I decided to join the RAF as a photographer. My mother was a painter and my father a photographer, so the move into the world of visual creativity was more or less inevitable. I did so well in my first year at the school of photography that my writing was eclipsed as I took to the expression of my creativity through photographs. This led, through a series of events and jobs, to a life largely spent dealing with photography or those aspects in which it featured. Writing took second place, though I did regularly submit illustrated articles to the photographic press, and had many of these published.
Life often seems to come along with reminders of our purpose and, during a period when I was no longer employed but working as a freelance, I came across a contest run by the well-respected UK weekly magazine, the Radio Times. The play I wrote for the entry came third. Second place was taken by Shirley Gee, wife of a professional actor and first place was won by Willie Russell of 'Educating Rita', Blood Brothers' and much other fame.
Thus began a long period of writing radio and, once I was approached by a literary agent, TV scripts. I was another 'nearly man' in this world. My skills and ideas, my characters and ability to frame a great plot were never at issue. But my subject matter and the themes I espoused were too radical for the editors and gate-keepers of those organisations to which my work was submitted. Several plays reached the 'round table' stage only to be refused the light of day by those in charge of subject matter deemed suitable for public consumption. So, I never got further than the first play, broadcast in a truncated form that my inexperience permitted the producer to develop for the airways. A shame. My second play was purchased by the BBC but got no further than commissioning as the producer, a man with whom I had little sympathy or connection, left the drama department to go on to some other subject. At that time, the BBC was structured such that no other producer was able to take over the reins and the second play never reached production.
I could, I suppose, have tried to conform to the requirements of the broadcasting authorities but I have always been a bit perverse: what I write, I write. It would be great to be published, broadcast, heard etc., but I refuse to modify my words to suit the preconceptions of men in grey suits. In fact, I did try to write a best-seller on one occasion. Long before the days of the electric typewriter (yes, I'm THAT old), I wrote the first 76,000 words of a thriller in longhand on lined foolscap paper. But I read the thing through before I'd finished it and threw it in the bin in disgust. It didn't do what I wanted my writing to do, so I ditched it.
Life came along and a troubled first marriage gradually impacted on my writing in a number of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I produced a few stories and began the ground work for a fantasy, drawing a detailed map and gathering together the geographical, political, social and spiritual history of the tribes I would eventually include in this epic trilogy (I've written the first two volumes of that, but I'm not releasing any of it until I've started on the final volume).
The necessity of earning a living is possibly the single most destructive element of our creative lives in current society, but it must be done. I wonder how many great works are denied us by this insistence. However, I ended the destructive marriage after 18 years and found a new soul mate; a woman who understands my creative needs even though she lacks such desires for herself. A loving, trusting relationship naturally brought a child into our lives and for some years I gave over much of my energy and creative spirit to the development, education, amusement and care of our daughter.
If the foregoing sounds like a series of excuses for my lack of commercial success, so be it. We each develop our own sense of what matters here and now and what can be left for the future. Suffice it to say that my later years have been my most productive. I've written five novels and published one, had several short stories published, some as prize-winners in contests, and, of course, written the first two volumes of the epic fantasy. In November last year I took part in the NaNoWriMo challenge, which requires the writer to complete 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. With typical individuality, I set myself the target of completing an entire first draft of a novel in the same period. I managed 112,242 words and am currently battling with the editing, trying to find the right voice after several false turnings. But, I think now that I shall allow the book to take the course it directed during the writing and stop trying to turn it into something it is not. I allowed myself to be talked into the idea of making it a best-seller. I'm not, and never will be, 'best-seller' material. My ideas and themes of importance are too off the wall to be generally accepted by the book-producing community. Thank heavens for independent book publication!
Have I told you what motivates me to write? Well, I may have deviated here and there, but I think you'll get the general impression that I write to some extent because I'm driven to do so.
But what I write about is largely motivated by my need to dispel many of what I see as false beliefs and ideas that exist in the world and cause most of its problems. I'm a frustrated teacher and agnostic preacher, but hopefully without the arrogant zeal of those pastors and missionaries who wish to inflict their set of religious values and beliefs, mostly unproven, on the unsuspecting and ignorant. But that will have to wait to be expanded. I've made enough of this post. Perhaps I'll develop those last thoughts next week? Who knows?
And now, as ever, I invite your comments, your thoughts, your sparkling gems in response. Thank you for reading.