“I Write Because I Simply Must!”

A great interview with the delightful Cynthia Ozick, author of Critics, Monsters, Fanatics and Other Literary Essays, at npr books

Ms. Ozick laments the loss of a literary culture, when the publication of a “serious literary novel was an exuberant community event.” The last time a book caused a such a reaction was Harry Potter. I attended an exuberant launch for Harry Potter and the Half B,lood Prince and it was great fun, with everyone dressed up as witches and wizards. I have also seen libraries in remote areas of Queensland that treat the arrival of a favourite author’s new book with great enthusiasm as everyone rushes to register to be among the first to read it.

But it is true that it’s all rather muted today. Bloomsbury knew they were onto a good thing with Harry Potter, and that Rowling’s fans were ready and willing to have their exuberance whipped up, but authors mostly have to make the party themselves, with kickstarters, blog tours and whatnot.

I miss literary culture too, I miss writers who could get you heart fluttering with the release of a new book like A.J. Cronin, J.B. Priestley, Elizabeth Goudge, Nevil Shute and so many others, long gone now, who made being a book lover such an adventure. What would they thrill and enchant us with next?

Well, I have Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to look forward to, as well as Ms. Ozick’s latest.

A Moment of Clarity

Writers experience many Aha! moments. Aha! That’s how this story ends. Aha! She’s in love with him, that’s why she hates him. Aha! A paying market!!!! (Lots of exclamation marks for that one, it’s so rare.)

But my most recent Aha! moment had nothing to do with the story I was working on last night. It started that way – Aha! I know what’s wrong with this story. So in  spite of the fact I had my granddaughter Lyta chattering in my ear, relating for me the entire script of her favourite My Little Pony movie, I got stuck into it on my laptop, and gave the story what it lacked – emotion.

Lyta paused in her narration, looked at the words appearing on the screen, and said, “are you an author?”

My fingers hovered in the air. All my working life I had described myself as a writer, a simple humble wordsmith chipping away. I had even worked as a journalist and was happy to claim that title, but even then it was just a job. Mostly my writing had been regarded as a little hobby of mine.  J.K. Rowling was an author. Miss Read was an author. Fame and the ability to live off your writing (in Rowling’s case, with bells on) seemed to be a necessary component.

I looked at the dreamy eyed girl who was so much like me a very long time ago, making up stories, drawing and colouring, happily lost in her own world. One day, I thought, it’s going to mean a lot to her that she knew a real author, and that it was her grandma.

“Yes, I am,” I said. She nodded happily and went back to her narration.

I’ve mentioned before that I am in the third year of a five year plan, without even knowing exactly what it is I want to have achieved at the end of it. Maybe nothing at all – maybe just a better understanding of who I am and what I want to do with the third age of my life. Naturally after decades of writing, being a sometime journalist, and frequently getting disheartened and wondering if there just might be something else I can do, the idea of giving it all up has frequently surfaced. What have I ever really gained from writing? What have I ever given the world as a writer? Just a bunch more words, a lot more wasted trees and occasionally a memorable phrase or two that has been lost and forgotten in the sheer avalanche of words that pours out every year.

But – I’m an author.  My son’s an author, my daughter Lucia is a poet and a singer.  Lyta said, when I asked her, that she wants to be an author some day. It’s a family calling, it’s genetic, it’s in the DNA. and who knows where it will pop up and what it will reveal.