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Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Truth is stranger than fiction

I’m not one of those lucky people who just sat down and wrote a book without any training. I dithered and procrastinated and raged and feared failure and came up with all manner of lovely dream-blocking strategies including serving up self-hate for not ‘just getting on with it’ in great dollopy portions way before I ever put pen to paper. My favourite way of upping the ante on true self-loathing was to go into our local library and read the first pages of books by people I was at university with. Long defensive conversations about why I hadn’t actually written a novel with people I’d told I was going to became another outlet for my creativity.
written a novel
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic

It seems astonishing to me now. If I’d used all that negative energy to sit my backside on a chair and snap up the laptop, I’d probably be about five novels further on. I still have moments when I sit there like a constipated cow, imagining all my peers with their fingers fairly flying over the keyboard, tapping out three thousand words a day while I look at a white screen and wonder if I’ll have a remotely entertaining thought again. Ever.
Like most things in my life, I’ve had to learn and then graft to make progress. Luckily, I discovered the online writing programme at the UCLA (University of California). It took me a good six months to enrol in case I was paying for proof that I was lacking the talent to do the thing I wanted most in the world. Happily, this turned out not to be the case. Aside from the lovely people I ‘met’ in my virtual classroom, the most fascinating thing I discovered was that whenever I added in something based on a true event, no one believed me. Of all the hundreds of events squeezed out of the fictional fantasy box in my aching brain, the minute I wrote about something real, it was as though everyone from Texas to California did a collective sniff and went, ‘Nah. That just wouldn’t happen.’

So these things are not going to appear in my books:

Last day in Sydney after six weeks writing and researching a guidebook. Ambling along Manly to Spit walk admiring the view. Man jumps out on me stark naked except for T-shirt over his head. (Frankly, the manhood was nothing to boast about, so I could see an argument for deploying the T-shirt elsewhere). Instead of running away, I shout and bellow until he is convinced I am more deranged than he is and runs for his life.

Win first prize at York Writing Festival for my novel’s opening line ‘I was wearing the wrong bra for sitting in a police cell’, then ditch fabulous line in final version of the book.

Live in Tuscany in isolated farmhouse in a field of sunflowers. Get back late one night to find house ransacked. Call local gamekeeper who bursts in with his pistol, slamming open doors and swinging into rooms, James Bond-style.

Take bus to the jungle in Thailand. Follow small boy on a moped. He beckons to me to cross the river. I look for bridge, boat, sigh, then lift my rucksack onto my head.

Children sit down without arguing and get on with homework. Son gaily accepts that as he is only thirteen, 15 certificate games and films are not for him. Daughter accepts that as son is two years older, it is perfectly reasonable for him to go to bed much later.

I’ll leave it to you to sort the fact from fiction…


  1. Don't listen to Americans. We don't know anything. I love your true stories. The naked guy incident reminds of the time I was in line to exchange money at the train station in Florence and an Italian man came up and tried to feel me up right then and there! I smacked his arm away and went, "Hey!" He shrugged and walked away. Would you believe that happened? It's weird and funny and scary... xo

  2. Sorry Carol, but that makes me laugh because I cannot tell you how many times similar things happened to me when I lived in Florence...somehow my riding around on a bicycle seemed to bring out the worst in the Italians...they were always shouting hopeful sexual requests at me! What happened to you doesn't surprise me at all. But I still love Italy (just in case all my Italian mates are reading...!!)

  3. Oh and by the of the gorgeous Americans I was so privileged to 'meet' was, of course, YOU!