Susan here. For our usual AAW (Ask-A-Writer) feature, we asked each other — Were you a young writer? What was your first story? Was there a book (or books) that made you love stories so much that you wanted to write your own? Here's what we said . . .
I don't remember writing stories when I was a child. Most of my childhood memories are about being out of doors, with a dog or some other animal in tow. Even if I had written any, we moved so often, and so much was thrown out between every move, that if I had, it wouldn't have been kept. School reports? Gone. Special projects? Gone. Favorite clothes? Gone. (I was growing, and I was the youngest, so . . . ) I was lucky to hang onto my teddy. But I might have been a storyteller back then. Family legend has me sitting in the sand pit telling long involved stories to the dog, the cat, the horse and any other animal I could entice. We left that place when I was four, and moved every year or two after that until I left home to go to university, moved into a student share house, and settled down.
But throughout my childhood I read, insatiably. Every new town we moved to, one of the first things I found was the local library, and I joined up and devoured the books there. So I probably absorbed a lot about story structure and writing techniques just by reading. When I was older and travelling overseas a lot (backpacking) I wrote letters home and to friends all the time, and people used to say they found them very entertaining. I think I was storytelling then, too. And when I went backpacking again, many years later, I still wrote lots of letters home, but other stories started to spin in my head as well — fictional stories. I bought a large A4 notebook in Quebec and started writing. And I haven't stopped since.
I was definitely a young writer, and my mother saved one of my early manuscripts to document it! I wrote this particular one at age five, and had quite a thing for horses and cowboys, as you can see by the photo of me with my trusty steed! (Clearly I have a thing for Men in Boots as I moved from Westerns to writing about Regency England!) And yes, I am still a terrible speller. “Horeses” was a family joke for a number of years.
I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. I remember early on that Dr. Seuss and his clever play of language and funny drawings really amused me. Tales of adventure—Robin Hood, King Arthur—also appealed. I became a voracious reader, and I think that my parents were at times a little concerned at how happy I was within the world of imagination and storytelling. Those two things still give me great pleasure to this day.
I started writing stories when I was quite young and by the time I was 11, I was contributing to my school magazine. I must have had a very strong imagination as I wrote one story about having a quarrel with my brother; it was very vivid but totally made up as I don’t have any siblings! As an only child I had plenty of time and solitude to read and write and I wrote at first in coloured crayons in a scrap book on different coloured paper before progressing to lined writing pads. My godmother, Auntie Joan, was an author and it was mortifying when my mother made me read out my scribbles to her, but she was very kind and encouraged me by giving me a “how to write” book.
Mostly I was influenced by children’s books about magical gardens, castles and history. The Castle of Yew was one of my early favourites. I wish I still had a copy! If the books had timeslip elements, so much the better. I wrote my first timeslip story about the Princes in the Tower when I was thirteen. I didn’t realise it would be another 40 years before I wrote about them again in The Last Daughter!
I was a young reader, teaching myself so I could read the books no one had time to read to me. But I don’t recall any writing tendencies until I was about nine and scarfing down Nancy Drew mysteries. Back then, my neighborhood was surrounded by farms, and I was fascinated by an abandoned farmhouse in a cornfield. That became my first mystery novel. I scribbled short stories and poems for extra credit in sixth grade, for a wonderful teacher who encouraged my idiosyncrasies. In middle school, my IBM-employed father brought home the Holy Grail—a Selectric typewriter. I taught myself to type and started a fascinating saga based on a horrible song called Little Runaway. I wanted to know why she ran away and what happened, so I made up my own romantic tale. Because ink ribbons and typing paper were rare, I wrote almost everything by hand—in turquoise ink and backhanded because that looked prettier. I wrote what I read—romance and mystery. And I’m still writing them today. The last of my contemporary Psychic Solutions mysteries will be out Tuesday, and I’m now diving into a new historical mystery series called the Gravesyde Priory Mysteries. And they all contain romance, naturally!
No, I didn’t write stories as a child either, although I did do a lot of daydreaming so perhaps that counts? I would invariably invent scenarios where I was a princess being rescued by a prince. Yes, I was obsessed with fairy tales and romance even then, so I guess you could say that the Brothers Grimm are responsible for me being an author?
Rather than write things down, though, I used the plots I came up with when playing with dolls. Mostly Barbie dolls, which were my favourites. I think the situations I dreamed up for them, and acted out with them, must have been the precursors to my writing. It certainly made me use my imagination! I was a rather (OK, very) bossy child who more or less forced my best friend to enact the little dramas I thought up for our dolls. Luckily for me, she didn’t
mind, so I had free rein. And again, there was always romance. Barbie’s wedding dress was the most frequently used item in her wardrobe, closely followed by the ballgowns.
To this day, I still collect dolls – mostly Barbies, but also recently Monster High and Ever After High, which really appeal to me. And my favourites are those I could potentially see as having a starring role in one of my books. What do you think of this guy for example – wouldn’t he be a perfect hero?
I never wrote stories as a kid. For one thing, I'm lazy. For another, growing up in a farm area of Western New York, the life of a professional writer was unimaginable.
BUT–I had a vivid imagination. I created whole worlds in my head. A major world was smart, brave young friends fighting Nazis in Europe. I had names, relationships, and settings. My actual writing life began when I bought my first computer so I could do copywriting and invoicing for my design business. Shortly after the Mayhem Consultant showed me how to use the word processing program on my Leading Edge, it occurred to me to see if I could write a story. I wasn't a great writer, but I could tell stories–and three months later, I was offered a three book Signet Regency contract based on a partial manuscript. The rest is history. <G>
And you know what? I wrote my daydreams of groups of young friends fighting the Nazis in my young adult Dark Mirror trilogy. Who says dreams can't come true?!!
I was a young writer too, though first I scribbled drawings—mostly to express my obsession with princesses and princes, having soaked up the archetypes and tropes of fairytales early on. As a toddler, I drew pictures wherever I could find available paper, and being a resourceful little thing, I discovered that most books had blank pages in them–wow, perfect places for my art! This included my dad’s childhood poetry book (see my princess drawings at age two or three)—and the family Bible, which I happily decorated. Luckily for me, my parents took it well, gave me more drawing paper, and eventually paid for art lessons and later art school. Then I learned to write the alphabet and words, got some fat lined paper and pencils, and set to writing stories featuring lots of princesses.
In second grade, my teacher wrote on my report card “Susie is a great little storyteller”— I just hope she meant it kindly! And in middle school, I wrote a novel by hand, filling the pages of a spiral notebook and drawing the illustrations. I titled it “My Lady Elise,” and all I remember now is that it had something to do with an overturned carriage and said Lady Elise crawling out to the road just as a handsome guy rode by on a white horse (seriously) and rescued her, her maid, and the coachman. There was plenty of Sturm und Drang and the wringing of hands, I suspect. That notebook disappeared long ago, alas; I'd love to see it again!
And like Christina, I also played with Barbie dolls, creating ongoing stories and adventures for Barbie, Ken, and friends that took place in an elaborate house and village that I constructed across our basement floor using things I found around the house, including my dad's chess pieces for matching lamps. Then they'd all take off in Barbie's car, zoom around, and return to their villa to begin another adventure.
So there you go, our childhood writing adventures — how about you? Did you write stories as a kid, setting the stage for reading or writing later?