Today marks 20 years since my first piece of writing was published, which, quite frankly, is terrifying.

I was 12 years old and in Grade 6 when I was selected to take part in a ‘Newshounds’ program run by our local paper, the Maroondah Mail. Four students from local schools were chosen to write one article per week for six weeks, under the supervision of a journalist.

Newspaper articles
My ‘Newshounds’ articles in the Maroondah Mail, Oct-Dec 1996

Newspaper articles

I’d always loved writing, but this was the first time I’d seen my name in print, and the feeling has never really left me. It was this experience that started a passion for professional writing and, although I’ve moved away from straight journalism, I’ve continued to publish. Including Greythorne, I now have 114 publications to my name (1 novel, 3 academic book chapters, 4 academic book reviews, 5 academic journal articles, 11 conference papers and 63 media articles – details here). I hope to make it 115 by the end of the year, with the upcoming release of my new non-fiction book, Communications for Volunteers: Low-cost strategies for community groups. The little girl who wrote those Newshounds articles can hardly believe it.

Incidentally, in the first Newshounds article introducing myself, I note that my favourite books are The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, All in the Blue Unclouded Weather by Robin Klein, and Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody. All three remain favourites, and I was especially excited to meet Isobelle Carmody at the Canberra Writers Festival in August this year, where we got talking and I gave her a copy of Greythorne (which she asked me to sign!). I won’t lie – my inner 12 -year-old completely fangirled. I like to think I hid it well, but I suspect I didn’t.

isobelle-carmody-canberra-writers-festival-2016
With Isobelle Carmody at the 2016 Canberra Writers Festival.

So anyway, it’s been a bumper two decades. Who knows what the next two will bring?

 

Circus (5)

Last weekend I did something I haven’t done since I was six years old. I went to the circus. And it was fabulous.

Circuses seem to pop up in our area relatively frequently (once or twice a year) and each time I see the spires of a brightly coloured tent I think about going, but don’t usually get round to it. There’s also an idea that the circus is just for kids, which is probably why, until last week, I hadn’t been to one since I was a kid myself. But when the Great Moscow Circus came to town and a friend recommended it, I bit the bullet and bought tickets.

Circus (3)

I go to a lot of theatre, both amateur and professional, so I assumed the circus would be similar, just inside a giant inflatable tent. And it was, yet it was so much more visceral as well. There’s something undeniably thrilling about seeing people doing quite risky things – like trapeze flying or tightrope walking – right in front of you. It felt much more real and immediate than the productions I’m used to seeing.

Circus (2)

I’ve been fascinated by circuses for a long time, especially the old-time travelling shows and carnivals from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I think it’s because they occupy a kind of liminal space – in the heyday of circuses and travelling shows, they were important to the community (in fact the circus couldn’t exist without them) but at the same time they traditionally provided a haven for people who were otherwise socially excluded due to disability and difference (although the darker side of this was just another kind of exploitation). Probably for this reason, in popular culture the old-time carnival combines a fascinating mix of joy and menace, which has been deftly illustrated by authors such as Ray Bradbury (in Something Wicked This Way Comes).

There’s also a certain element of romance about the circus life – the freedom of the nomadic existence can seem, to those of us stuck in the workaday grind, like the answer to all our problems, although no doubt the reality is rather less glamorous. But who hasn’t at some point dreamed of running off to join the circus?

Strangely enough, as I was sitting there ringside thinking about circuses, it occurred to me that this is one of the big reasons I like being a writer. I’ll never run off and join the circus in reality – not least because I have no talent for it – but in my books anything is possible. My forthcoming novel, Dragonscale, has a troupe of circus folk in it, and I’ve long been toying with the idea of a book set in an American travelling carnival at the start of the twentieth century, when barnstorming was all the rage. One of the great perks of being a writer is you can be anything you want to be, so once I’ve finished being a nineteenth-century level-crossing operator in my current novel, The Iron Line, I may just become a circus acrobat for a while.

Photo: Taymaz Valley, Flickr
Photo: Taymaz Valley, Flickr

For most of us, deciding whether or not to work as well as write is a choice we don’t have the luxury of making. But the assumption is that, if money were no object – if we suddenly became independently wealthy, or became hugely rich (or at least self-sufficient) off the proceeds of the Next Big Thing – that we’d quit our day jobs immediately and devote our lives to writing.

I used to think so too. But recently I’ve begun to wonder how I’d go as a full-time writer. At the moment the discussion is purely academic (I have bills to pay like everyone else) but maybe in the future…and I’m not sure it’d be as rosy as I sometimes think.

I don’t just have a job outside my writing, I have a career, and one that I’m generally very happy with. I’ve bounced around a bit between journalism, communications, international relations and strategic analysis, but in everything I’ve done I’ve learned a huge amount and I know it’s influenced the way I write. I enjoy the interactions with my colleagues and the new experiences and challenges that you can only get by pushing yourself out into the world. My workplaces have also funded professional development opportunities for me over the years that I could only dream about as a sole-trader who has to write for a living. I’ve also had the chance to visit countries, meet people and do things I would never have dared to on my own. New experiences are grist to the writer’s mill, and I’m not sure I could give that up even if I was financially able to.

The other side is time management. It’s easy to think that I’d be so much more productive if I could write full time, but I know myself well enough to realise that this probably isn’t true. The old adage about how if you want something done you should ask a busy person to do it certainly applies to me. When I have limited time, I know I need to make the most of the hours I can snatch here and there; when I’ve got long uninterrupted periods, it’s so easy to while them away. I wrote the first draft of Greythorne by getting up early and plugging away at the computer for an hour each morning before work; I’m so not a morning person, so this was a real struggle, but after about two weeks I realised that I was actually really enjoying it. It helped that it was summer, so it was light early and relatively warm (there’s no way I could do that in the winter!), but it also felt really good to have achieved something productive before I’d even left the house.

I don’t know if I’ll ever sell enough books to have to seriously confront the question of whether or not to work but, if I do, I wonder if the answer will be quite as straightforward as I always thought it would be. Nonetheless, it’d be a good problem to have.