When I was little, my relatives used to cluster around me asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I remember staring up at them, thinking, “I’m seven years old! How should I know?”, but what I actually said was “I don’t know.” “Be a teacher!” they all chorused. So I knew for sure I didn’t want to be a teacher.
However, I think I’ve always been imaginative. As my mother vacuumed, I remember sitting on the sofa directing a vast army in parade-ground exercises – Napoleonic era, to guess from the uniforms. I told stories about baby mosquitoes to the other kids in day camp, and – this was in the days when Westerns were the ONLY thing on TV – when I was about ten, I wrote a whole episode of a Western, which my sisters and I performed for our parents (I even remember the theme song). It was not great literature. When I learned about iambic pentameter, probably in junior high school, I wrote a page of it, describing the radiators banging. It began “Whence come these clanks and moans of darkest night? / Stalks a ghost our battlements? / Does a specter haunt our walls?” (except I hit the wrong typewriter key so it read “dardest night”). The odd thing was that I never got much encouragement at home. Nobody suggested I enter competitions, and the idea of becoming a novelist or – more sensibly – a journalist was never mentioned.
Fortunately, the last of my high schools offered an excellent creative writing course for those whose English was proficient enough, and I qualified. The content of what I wrote was, for the most part, pretty awful, but one or two essays show real promise. I look at them (my mother saved a few) and wish I could write like that!
Nevertheless, I didn’t start writing till after I was married – and that was just occasional short opinion pieces for a local newspaper. I didn’t write my first novel till I was 39, with eight children. For a year I wrote from 10pm to 2am, the only quiet time I had. Yes, I was a zombie for a year. The house was a mess. But everybody survived. This should give hope to a lot of people.