My First Story
I don't remember my exact age when I wrote my first story, but everything else about the day is as clear in my memory as the moment any other protagonist realises their destiny.
I was somewhere between the ages of five and six, on a sunny day at the Greenlees Tennis Club where my sisters and I were waiting for Mum and Nana to finish an afternoon of Tennis. (Welcome to the Latchkey Kids of the early 90s; as long as no-one was injured or bleeding, we were assumed competent to entertain ourselves without adult supervision.)
A 12-pack of markers and three blank and unlined 28-page a4 books, made from recycled paper, shared a round tabletop with brightly-coloured re-fillable water bottles and empty Dixie ice-cream cups and wooden stick-spoons. The table was one of several in the small block that seperated the tennis courts from the lawn bowls field on the other side, and the occasional retired gentleman lingered over a newpaper and coffee, waiting for his wife to finish her match and ready to fulfil his social duty of alerting someone if any of the kids got out of hand.
I could read fairly well, but my writing was a work in progress, about as atrocious as you'd expect from someone who had yet to master uniform letter size or the art of a smooth, steady hand.
Even so, the story of a beautiful princess who was locked in a tower took shape. The Princess Natasja was clever, so she waited until the evil witch was gone, climbed down from the tower, and set off to find a dragon to have adventures with.
In the manner of picture books (and pre-primary writing) there were only a few words per page, the rest taken up by childlike drawings. An outside observer could determine what was happening, clarified by shaky and misshapen words, but that's about the kindest thing I could say about it. I'd progressed beyond stick-figures, by that point, but the illustrations definitely wouldn't be hanging in any art gallery bigger than the refridgerator doors of affectionate parents and doting grandparents.
Still, it was my first story. The first idea that I wrote down without prompting from a teacher. The first milestone of a journey that would consume my life for the next thirty years and counting.
The first step in becoming a writer, is to decide that you want to be one.
My First Publication
In the early '00s, I published my first poems and short story.
The poems were a vanity press publication, the cost for inclusion was to buy a copy of the coffee table poetry book. I'm sure I still have it floating around somewhere, or it may have been donated when I moved house.
Around the same time, Mum was taking a rotation as someone important in the Nursing Mothers Association, an Australia-wide support group for new mothers, and the monthly newsletter was looking a little bare, so she asked me to write something for it.
A week later, I handed over roughly 1000 words of a multi-generational fiction centered around breastfeeding. It was a touch ironic, as I was not only still a teenager myself, but had no intention of ever having children, so the whole thing was pure feel-good fabrication.
Mum doubled my pocket money that week, and it was officially the first thing I'd been paid to write. It was also a lesson that you don't have to believe everything you write, as long as you follow the instructions given. (I've had a few Vocal Challenges like that...)
The first step in being published, is to have something people are interested in.
My First Book
I'd always loved the poem "The Highwayman", by Alfred Noyes, and the last two verses - implying that the titular Highwayman and his lover linger as ghosts - stuck with me, particularly after I heard the cover by Loreena McKennitt. Over the next few years, I slowly wrote a story inspired by those final verses, and spent another year editing it.
Around the same time, I rejoined the workforce in a full-time capacity and had the money to start going on vacation again. My first trip was a tour of England, Wales and Ireland, which allowed me to add some proper scenic details to my draft, and give a better sense of atmosphere. My sole prior experience in the UK had been a stop in London at around the age of 15, over a decade before.
I started working on my next book, the first of my Twisted Fairytale series, while I searched for a publisher who was willing to take an interest.
Unfortunately, this was 2014, when YA dystopia was taking off as a result of the Hunger Games. It quickly became apparent that any debut novel that wasn't a plucky teenage love-triangle struggling against the system and a lack of communication, was of little interest to publishers.
A nihilistic mid-20s protagonist who acknowledged their own good looks while having adventures with their purely-platonic best friend? Dream on.
Some of the more entertaining rejections included phrases like "while the steady communication between characters is refreshing, it's not a popular style right now", and "Perhaps if you re-wrote the story to play up a more romantic angle".
One of the main reasons I started writing seriously was because I wanted to read something different than the generic stories that covered the YA shelves in the bookstores. I was not willing to sacrifice my authenticity for the sake of getting my foot in the door. If I wound up writing for a niche market, so be it.
After about another year of such rejections, I looked into self publishing, and never looked back.
The first step in publishing, is to finish a draft.
My First Vocal Story
I discovered Vocal in 2020, but quickly got distracted by the Pandemic. I re-discovered it again in 2021 during the Delta Lockdown, with the Doomsday Diary challenge.
I took the challenge literally, and wrote an epistolary story, the diary off a survivour of a Second Great Flood, trapped alone in a survival bunker, trying not to let the isolation get to her, remembering times past, and wondering what changes await in the new world outside.
Life as an Essential Worker may have influenced me during the writing, just a little.
Writing for Vocal Challenges quickly became my preferred way to fill my lunch breaks, sitting in my car with whatever I'd picked up from the petrol station or drive thru in my brief respite between visits to Aged Care clients, at least half of whom needed more care than they were getting, but all of whom were adamantly against moving to a nursing home.
A few of them encouraged my writing, finding it an interesting topic of conversation while I cleaned and cooked and assisted in Personal Care.
Others inspired trials for my protagonists to overcome, venting my frustration onto a page in a notebook, as I couldn't express myself to anyone else without violating patient confidentiality.
One or two made it into my Runner-Up Piece "Tiny Inspirations".
The first step to place in a challenge, is to enter a piece.