THE SISTERS' SONG coming in January 2018 from Allen and Unwin. Sign up to my newsletter.

If someone had asked me a decade ago what I would be doing in ten years’ time, writing a novel would not have been on the list, nor on the horizon. It wasn’t even on the planet.

I’d always thought of myself as Maths/Science orientated as I found those subjects so much easier than English and the Humanities—I wasn’t a wordsmith; I found writing essays difficult; I couldn’t ‘get’ the theme of a novel until it was pointed out to me; and I hated the ambiguity and subjectivity of interpretation.

So, I stuck with the more objective Maths and Sciences, where things flowed logically and made sense, and you were either right or wrong. Simple and straightforward.

I studied Medicine and became a doctor. I loved learning Medicine—it was like visiting a new country, opening my brain to a whole new world, and I relished it. When I had children, I expected they would be good at Maths and Science, and not so good at English, like their father and me.

However, much to my surprise, they loved writing stories, and not just at school but in their own time. A couple of these were pretty good, and they won a few Young Writer awards. At the time, I laughed and said, ‘They definitely don’t get it from their mother …’

Meanwhile, I was beginning to dread getting up in the mornings. I thought it was because I had four kids and too much on my plate. I dragged myself from my bed each morning, tossed the kids out of the car at the drive-through, and hit the pedal to get to work on time. I raced through each work day and charged out the door at the end, flooring the pedal again to be there for school pick-up and whatever after-school activity the kids had. I’d cook something ready-made for dinner amidst homework questions and music practice (that hasn’t changed), get them to bed, then tackle the washing, vacuuming, tidying, letter-writing and work miscellanea. Eventually, I’d collapse into bed and get up the next day and do it all over again.

I began forgetting things. I forgot about assemblies where my child was given a certificate. I forgot about the school excursion and that the bus was leaving early, and by the time we got there it had already left. I forgot to collect a child from a party. I forgot that a friend was coming over, until they were on my doorstep …

Just before Christmas four years ago, I hit a wall. I could barely drag myself out of bed in the mornings, and one night, as I was vacuuming at eleven pm, I started crying and couldn’t stop. I realised I couldn’t sustain it any longer …

I decided to stop work. Being the type of person I am, I knew I had to replace it with something, so I started a beginners’ writing course. I spent hours on the first homework exercise—our bio. Our second exercise was to describe a lighted candle. Here’s what I wrote:

THE CANDLE

You’re fat, frumpy, opaque. Not transparent, but might as well be.
You’re used but you still have hours of light left in you, thanks to your girth.
Tonight you dust off and don your thin-stemmed, elegantly curved stilettos for a night out.
You love the height. Already more confident.
And now alight. Wow, you’re transformed. Radiant.
You’ve cast away the frumpy you. Begone!
You’re someone else.
You’re the brightest light in the room.
Alluring. Spellbinding. Your tongue erect.
Kiss me, kiss me, you whisper to passers-by.
Feel my heat, you sing, temptingly.
Moisture pools, glistening in your little well.
Someone notice me, please, please, your tears cry.
Before I die again.

This is the candle I wrote about

Here it is: the sexy candle in its stilettos

It’s still the sauciest thing I’ve ever written!

As soon as I started writing, I realised I loved it. I spent hours honing each homework exercise. In the mornings, my feet slid into my slippers and I raced to the computer, where I sat and typed, sometimes all day. One Sunday, I was still in my PJ’s at five pm, with a very empty stomach.

Then a few things came back to me from my childhood, like how much I’d loved reading, and how it had gradually slipped lower and lower down the priority list as I grew older and busier. I remembered, too, that I’d been chosen to write stories for the local Young Writers’ Awards. In Year Three, I wrote a story about Flossy the mare. Her foal, Andy, was gored by a bull, and the story became a will-he-or-won’t-he-make-it tear-jerker. Despite that, I didn’t win.

I also remembered my poem, which was published in the school yearbook, circa 1977/78:

How many whales are left?
Not enough.
Anyway, there’s other stuff
that could be used.
I won’t have the whale abused.
Through sun, wind, rain or hail,
I will SAVE THE WHALE.

Yes, I was an activist at the age of eleven!

I no longer have a copy, but I remember it looked something like this:

I think I drew it better when I was eleven ...

I think I drew it better when I was eleven …

More of my sophisticated poetry appeared in other yearbooks. One poem lamented the passing of a pet dog. I can’t remember how it went, which is probably a good thing as our family had never had a pet at that point …

So writing feels as if I’ve come back to that creative child and back to myself. Back to things I liked doing as a kid. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t regret studying Medicine and working as a doctor, for too many reasons to list (I’ve written about some of them herehere, and here), and I still love trying to solve a tricky Maths equation. But, more than anything, I want to write. Time away from it seems a waste. I love turning off the real world and getting lost in my world of words. I love digging, deeper and deeper through the layers, until I unearth a truth.

It took me a while to find my passion—nearly four-and-a-half decades. But that also means I have four-and-a-half decades of living behind me that deepens and enriches my stories. That can only be a good thing.

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THE SISTERS' SONG

Coming January 2018 (Allen and Unwin)

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