I always wanted to tell stories.
As a kid, my imagination never stopped ticking. It drove stories early in primary school into accounts unrecognisable from the truth, and pushed them towards grandiosity when I got into the later grades. In high school, I’d handwrite epics – fifty or sixty pages long. If I watched movies, the movies would inspire me to similar ideas, or even to possible sequels. Ideas always tumbled around in my head. Even fantasies were accompanied with a narrative, a voice in my head that articulated how they unfolded.
For a while, storytelling hid behind other teenage pursuits. At one time or another, I wanted to design computer games, sing in a band, or act. Later, the common denominator was clear: it wasn’t those pursuits specifically that appealed to me, but the story behind each which made them happen.
I loved books, loved finding some world I could sink into. It was always disappointing when a book didn’t appeal to me on that level. But there was always something else available. When I loved them enough, I wish I could sink into the very pages themselves and visit that world, interact with the characters, help them out.
I read JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings when I was 12, and more than the story itself was awed by the scope of the world Tolkien had created – the extent of the characters and the history that layered every step taken. This wasn’t just a story, or just a book, but an entire universe. It was the first book (up to that stage in my life) where I could truly appreciate that.
For a while, I thought Tolkien’s prose was symbolic of what it took to write, particularly in this genre – formality, as also impressed upon me by other books, like various Robin Hood adventures I read, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Ivanhoe. It wasn’t until I reading The Catcher in the Rye in Year 9 that I learned writing could be easy-going.
When I was sixteen, I started handwriting a fantasy book in an A5 exercise book, scribbling into the night, making up things as I went along, my handwriting growing progressively unintelligible the longer I went. Some nights, I didn’t go to bed, instead drinking cup of tea after cup of tea, buzzed as I wrote and wrote into the morning, forcing myself to try keep my writing legible.
When I was done (two A5 exercise books), I bought a typewriter, and despite the false starts – sometimes ditching one hundred pages or so – I churned out a 400-page novel, which got rave reviews from everybody who mattered: my brother, my cousins, my cousin’s friend who’d read it. Well, they seemed to be that everybody who mattered.
Throughout, I kept reading. The David Eddings’ fantasy series, The Belgariad, taught me you could be informal in fantasy, which (to me) was unheard of. There were other authors: (in fantasy) Raymond Feist, David Gemmell, Tad Williams, Hugh Cook and (in sci fi) Isaac Aasimov; and then Stephen King. I mowed through these and more, sure this is what I wanted – and needed – to do.
If I didn’t write for any period, my imagination seemed to feed on itself, overloading my head until I felt unbalanced, and sometimes even suffered hypnagogic hallucinations – like experiencing dreams, before you’re fully asleep. So I had to write. Had to. All this stuff had to go somewhere, had to be vented, because there was always new stuff coming in.
Until I completed my book.
Then there was nothing.
Nothing but the panic.