I am a writer. I am creative. I am funny.
It’s taken me more years than it should have to acknowledge all those things. I really gave it an earnest go. I studied film at university and graduated with the ability to break down the mise-en-scène of any movie, not a marketable skill at all. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in hand, I spent a year floundering around, waking up past 10am every day and trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. When I was presented with the opportunity to apply for journalism school, I jumped at it.
That was my initial dream. During my last year of high school, I decided I wanted to go to a university that offered the best journalism program in the country, but I was talked out of it.
“You’ll never get in. Your grades aren’t good enough. You’re not a great writer.” Or “How are you going to pay for tuition/books/a place to live?”
I let the fears of others determine what path I should take. So when I was accepted, 5 years later than when I should have started, I was going to find a way to make it work. I jumped through all the hoops required of a journalism school applicant. The day of my admissions interview, I was told that without a portfolio of work to submit, I needed to go out right now and find a story. That was my audition. I had four hours.
I approached a woman who was sitting near a fountain in a mall and she willingly told me her story. She was new to Canada, originally from a middle eastern country I knew little about, but where civil war had begun. For the next two hours, she answered my questions about her life in Afghanistan, what it felt like to leave everything behind to start fresh and what she hoped her life in Canada would be like. I took copious notes, losing myself in the musicality of her accent. “I am not afraid,” she told me. “I sit here and watch this fountain and dream. I will wake tomorrow safe in my bed. I don’t work yet, but I will one day. Canada doesn’t scare me. It comforts me.”
When I presented my story about this woman to the school’s adjudicators, I had no idea that during my first year of journalism school, words that peppered my story would become commonplace within the year: Islam, Kandahar and Taliban.
The irony of the story style I presented is only clear now, almost 30 years later. I didn’t know it at the time, but my innate skill at finding a person’s story, at coaxing out the details and bringing the readers into the spaces and places of that story was obvious in that audition piece. I had a talent for memoir.
This was confirmed by my agent. Even though she is representing me for my middle grade fiction, the terms of my contract stipulated I had to send any significant work to her, giving my literary agency the right of first refusal. She read Murder on my Mind and told me that while they were taking pass, I had a remarkable voice for memoir.
I should have known that already, since many of you told me so with your dollars. Every copy of The Girl in the Gold Bikini I sold should have been sufficient affirmation. But such is the mindset of the writer: we have stories to tell, but we never know why people read them and we always doubt whether they are really any good.
But you know what else is indicative of a writer’s life? Always needing to move on to tell the next story. As soon as Murder on my Mind was ready to go to print, my brain started digging around for the next project. I spent some conscious time worrying about what I would write next. I discarded ideas like chicken wing bones into the compost bin. I went back to a work of fiction I started many months ago and abandoned when I didn’t know where to take the story.
And then, typical for me, I’m in the shower, wondering if the new soap we bought will cause an allergic reaction in my lady parts (yeah, that can happen in your menopausal years), when the new idea smacks me in the forehead. It’s a whole body experience when THE NEXT BOOK lands in your head. I can’t get out of the shower fast enough to get to my desk and start outlining chapters.
I’m a writer. I tell stories. I share the really ugly and delightful bits of being a human. And I do it with a style that is my own and with shampoo not fully rinsed from my hair.