Every writer has drive, something in their life that influences and gives passion to their work. For some it is something concrete, such as their childhood, education, working life or a particular subject. For others, it is a chance encounter with a book, person, movie, piece of music or place that they particularly admire or are inspired by. For others still, it is the wider experiences they have of life. For me, it is most notably the last.
I started my education in any regular English Bourgeois way – a private primary school, then a private secondary school, before finally getting tired of that and moving to an International School in central London. Brilliant – sixth form became ‘High school’, there was no uniform, no walls and lunch could be eaten outside, in the city. What a novelty! This new-found freedom, this introduction to different cultures and people, and the opportunity to experience a completely different education system were incredible and opened my mind to new possibilities. But there was work. A lot of it. Most of us were convinced we were having breakdowns at some point during our final year. Yet we all graduated; then some of us had a gap year, went travelling, or took part-time or full-time jobs to earn some extra cash. Most of us went to university. I did all the usual things somebody my age would do with the possibilities open to me. And I wrote about nearly all of them.
It would probably be wise if I wrote this with some kind of chronology, but, as with much writing – much of my writing anyway - plots and development, the intricate detail of a story, book, or poem, doesn’t always work out so neatly ordered. And neither does life. We move forward in time, but it very rarely feels that way when we look back on our past. Life, instead, is a mass of colours, words, pictures and memories, and never seems to go exactly how we planned it. And so sometimes when biographers are researching somebody’s life, they do so in a jumbled way, as if this is somehow an easier method of making sense of all the information they are provided with. This is what I tend to do when I write: a thought or a feeling or an idea comes to me, and I just write from that. I don’t plan, I worry about that later on when ‘tidying up’. We shouldn’t concern ourselves too much about being overly impressive, interesting or world changing. That will come – hopefully –once the important things have been written down.
Naive is the writer who claims that he or she has never been influenced by other writers. We are influenced by everything we do, see, hear, touch – so why would this stop at a great novel? When I write a story or a poem, I strongly maintain my own style whilst feeling the influence of one, two, maybe several authors attempting to pour out of me onto the page. We can have these experiences in the most wonderful places, or the worst. Stuck in a traffic jam with no way of getting the thoughts down and out, perhaps?
To cut to the chase, a lot of my writing has been inspired by sadness, pain, loss and grief. Not, you might argue, a very cheerful way to write. And you would be right. But these things have regularly interrupted my otherwise normal life for as long as I care to remember, so I know no other way of doing things. Of course I write happy things too, for I have had a lot of happiness in my life so far, but they are never nearly as poignant, true, or touching. And besides, we cannot know real happiness without real sadness. Any compliments I have received have always been in response to a piece about bereavement, chronic illness, divorce, alcoholism, estrangement, loneliness. These things are not written to dwell upon such experiences, but to help me cope with them, and I hope, to help others who have been through similar, or worse.
Ultimately, some writers are here to educate, some to philosophise, some to inspire; but all of us are here to express that which can’t normally be expressed in the everyday. Writing provides access to another realm, triggers a sense of being and belonging and generates the excitement and sadness that makes us feel complete. Ultimately we all want to be here, whether we lose ourselves or remain in control.
Is that not why we write? It’s why I write.