Donne wrote “No man is an island” but for many writers starting on their writing journey, they can feel that they are not only an island but a very remote island stranded in a wild sea. When I first started to write it felt like some sort of guilty pleasure that I would be embarrassed about if anyone caught me at it! I felt completely and utterly alone.
Gradually, as that first novel began to take shape I started to believe that this was something I could do, that a childhood dream of being a writer was achievable but like any spring growth, that dream felt new and vulnerable to criticism. A couple of wrong words and I would have crawled into a corner and tried to forget all about it. It took a couple of chance encounters to realise that it was all right to keep writing and to keep dreaming.
The first encounter was with a woman in our church choir who I’ll call “Ann”. To me she was an idol…a successful career woman who had managed to reach the pinnacle of her profession and yet also be a wife and mother at a time when women were still expected to be the little housewife. I can’t recall how the conversation started, during which she “confessed” that in her spare time (what spare time, I wondered?) she liked to write romance novels. I never knew if Ann was a published author or not – in hindsight she seemed rather cagey about that aspect of her secret life. That short, snatched conversation in the choir vestry had a deep impact on me and it felt as if she had given me permission to pursue my dream. If this amazing woman wrote romance novels then it was OK for me to do so too.
I typed “The End” and that first manuscript (begun when I dislocated a shoulder on a skiing holiday) had become a fully formed book. A BOOK! I'd done it! But publication seemed an unachievable aspiration as the rejection letters began to flow in. In the meantime my legal career limped on and led me to my second chance encounter in the crowded foyer of a local magistrate’s court, among the speeding drivers and petty criminals. There I met an upcoming crime writer, and lawyer, by the name of Kerry Greenwood. I had read several of her wonderful Phryne Fisher novels and she was enough of a local identity for me to recognise her. In the course of the conversation I blurted out my hopes and dreams of leaving law behind and becoming a writer. Kerry listened patiently and told me that of course I could do it. I just had to keep at it.
The rest is history. I found a writing family with Romance Writers of Australia and no longer felt alone. I kept writing and eventually my stories were published but I never forgot Ann and Kerry’s encouragement to a young, vulnerable, fledgling writer with a dream.
Recently I met Kerry Greenwood again. No longer up and coming but arrived, Kerry’s fabulous stories are being transformed into film with a Phryne Fisher series due for release on the ABC next year. Like any nervous fan I sidled up to her at the end of the panel and began “You won’t remember me, but…”. “Of course I remember you,” she said. “How is the writing?” I felt myself flushing with pleasure that a chance encounter so many years ago had stayed with her. If she only knew what it had meant to me at the time.