A couple of years before I broke my arm, my brother Nick turned a third of the garage into a bungalow. He and his friend put up a wall, installed carpeting, a cork ceiling, chairs and everything. Nick played piano, so he wanted somewhere to practice, but that back room accumulated a lot of the amenities of life: besides my brother’s upright piano, a Commodore 64 home computer, a television, a radio, a couch, and several other chairs.
The back room became my escape. It was also a way to get out of the house without getting out. Better yet, it insulated me from all the shouting. Sometimes, I’d go in the back room and put the radio on full blast to drown out the shouting coming from the house.
My friend Stan and I also spent a lot of time there, playing games on the C64 and talking. Stan had an abusive, alcoholic father, and while Stan was an awesome guy – the sort who’d do anything for you – he had his own blackness. We connected on that level. Stan also began drinking early in his life as a way of coping with things.
I wasn’t capable of much else right after I was discharged from hospital. My broken arm and damaged hand ruled out lots of jobs for me, and you could be really specific with the sorts of jobs you wanted. I told the job agency I wanted to be an actor. It wasn’t a lie, either. I really did want to become an actor.
Of course, at different points throughout my life, I’d had different career ambitions – if you could call what I dreamed to be careers, or my dreams themselves ambitions. For a while, I wanted to be a computer programmer, because I had all these great scenarios for games. I drew up notes, jotted down ideas, and tried to learn computer code. Then I wanted to be a singer – or at least part of a band. I couldn’t sing; but I did play guitar for about six months, learning chords in the garage on an old guitar my brother Nick had bought. I also wrote heaps of lyrics, and imagined in my head the way the clips would look, making stories out of them. Next, it was acting; I visualised myself in lead roles I concocted in my head.
Really, I just wanted to tell stories.
That was the realisation that began to dawn through all these aspirations.
I liked fantasy and science-fiction – maybe because the real world was so mundane to me. The Lord of the Rings was my favourite. I’d read it – and The Hobbit – when I was twelve, and was awed not only by the scope of this world J.R.R. Tolkien had created, but also the history.
I started penning my own fantasy series just after I broke my arm. Luckily, I was left-handed. I wrote by hand, making much of it up on the spot, but developing a mythology as I went on. The Lord of the Rings was my template; Tolkien had impressed upon me that the universe in which any story exists has to be internally logical and self-contained.
I wrote and wrote, coming up with the story of heirs to a lost kingdom, and magical crowns. Originally, I made stuff up on-the-fly, but the further I went on, the more I plotted the background of the story – the foundation that it would be built upon. The world and its people took form before me. Often, I sat up until the early morning hours. Sometimes, I went right through the night, because I was so buzzed with my ideas that I just didn’t want to go to sleep. As pool slipped away as whatever hope it had been, writing now took its place. This was something I could do.
I would write a fantasy epic.