The nicest thing that my grandma ever told me was when I was seven years old, 23 years ago. She said that a poem I had written in her upstairs guest room was ‘actually quite good’. It was about cowboys, I think, and it was written in verse and in pencil in a spiral book. It marks the beginning of my writing ambitions.
The most unpleasant thing that has been said about my writing was just this week, when a friend said that the first chapter (and only one they have read) was clichéd, that I just didn’t have what it takes and seemed to suggest that I give up. This, however, does not mark the end of my writing ambitions.
As I became a teenager, I started writing poems – they flowed out of me. But I also wrote what I might call prose poems, because they told a story with a poetic message to them. I also, as any youngster with literary ambitions, started drafting a fantasy novel inspired by the Elder Scrolls computer game. The poetry continued and cumulated when I was 17 with a poetic anthology of maybe 100 poems. I say maybe because, when I moved to France in 2012, I burnt the original manuscripts and there are two printed copies circulating somewhere in the world – I just don’t know where!
While at school, I learnt the beginnings of essay writing, which then was honed at university, when I must have written close to 200,000 words on Golden and Silver Age Latin literature, Roman history, Ancient Greek and Classical French tragedy, 19th century literature, with a specialisation on Stendhal and Mallarmé, and edging up to the middle of the last century. This form then found a home in a first blog called ‘Paris Theatre’, inspired by my own theatre critiques for the university newspaper, and it continues to this day in this very blog you are reading.
I have written short stories, inspired by Maupassant and Baudelaire. And I have kept a written diary on and off throughout my whole life. I have taught a class on literature, examining the works of Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood. And now I am writing a novel, for which I wake up at 6am and write no more than 300 words at a time, crafting each paragraph with care. It is the second draft of this novel and is the fruit of many years of reflection. It is a labour of love, but also an exploration of a stylistic philosophy, inspired notably by my readings of Wayne C. Booth and Erich Auerbach.
I could go on, but you probably get the point now. I admit that other people’s writing lists may be longer than mine. But what I see when I look back at this reflection is development: from poetry to essays, passing by short stories and blog posts, there remains the novel form to tackle.
So this is a message to my friend, or indeed anyone who might want to take a pop at my work:
My writing is here to stay. And this is just the beginning.