Jack Vizzard, of First Fleet, is certainly one such, but I’m thinking of myself at this point.
Ten years ago, in September 2000, I decided to have a stab at writing a novel. Because everybody has ‘a novel inside’, right? Was it Wilde who said ‘and that is where most should stay’? I’ve not checked but I chose to ignore his advice. For some months I wrote and wrote every evening. Just tapped away on a keyboard with thoughts spilling onto the screen. I had a tale to tell and wanted it ‘on paper’. Then I realised I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Not simply of my chosen subject matter, but the very craft of creating a work of fiction. So I did what most sensible people do; I gave up. Simply saved the thing onto a disc and forgot about it. For a couple of years.
Of course it wouldn’t stay locked away. I had to add to my knowledge. I did what I most enjoy; I read. I found (and bought) most of the leading works on the history of the First Fleet of convicts to Australia. That was not enough. I had to understand what the people involved thought of the experience. That meant research and in buckets! Sadly, there are few sources from the convicts themselves, well not nearly enough. I tracked them down and read them. I obtained copies of the eleven surviving journals of the officers and leading personalities of the expedition. That was not enough.
I had chosen a Marine as my MP, Jack Vizzard, because so many others have taken the ‘Naval Officer’ as their narrator. Of course, I knew a good deal about the Great Age of Sail, didn’t I? I could sail. Hadn’t I been weaned on C S Forester? Was I not an early ‘fan’ of O’Brian? Didn’t I have several leading histories of the Royal Navy? The answer to all these was ‘yes’. Did I know anything of the Corps of Marines? Er, no, I didn’t. Off to Eastleigh Barracks in Southsea then, to the Royal Marines Museum and more purchases. More visits. More ‘online’ research. Did I really understand the period? Did I know how people dressed, spoke, thought, behaved, where they went for amusement; what they ate for breakfast, lunch, dinner? I had to know what they read, how and what they wrote.
Again, not nearly enough. So it continued, with never enough knowledge in the grey databank between the ears. Slowly, gaps in my knowledge filled, until I found myself in awe of the men and woman of the time. Not just the officers with their grasp of the sciences of mathematics and physics, of navigation, politics, honour and leadership, but in awe of the ‘common’ sailor. There was even more to wonder at with ‘Jack Tar’, the sailors who manned the ships. His skills, strength, fortitude, humour, courage; sheer bloody-minded courage and sense of duty. Punching canvas clinging to a yard swinging violently through an arc of 60, 70 even 90 degrees, in a frozen storm-tossed sea; where one slip, one momentary lapse, would mean death. How could one fail to be inspired?
Now I was ready to resume writing.
Except I wasn’t really. I resumed the tale some years later when living in New Zealand. I stumbled across a site launched by Harper Collins, now well-known to many; www.authonomy.com Another life-changing experience. I plunged in, a virgin, to the writer’s world, to gain some insight into that esoteric, wondrous place, thereby making my spouse a widow for several months. I thought to glean more knowledge of the craft of writing. I did. More buckets of wisdom accompanied by more wit and humour than I expected from a ‘wannabe writers’ site’. Along the way I made many wonderful friends, found quite outstanding talent, sadly unrecognised or passed over by HC. To my utter surprise, I found people actually enjoyed my scribbling; many offered very helpful comment and advice. Conversely, as I explored bookshops (yet more research) I found too much ‘pap’. I wondered how such drivel came to be published, when so many others failed to make the cut. Others with a real gift for expression, for their skill in transporting a reader to another time, another place.
With the help of so many, given unselfishly, I learned how supportive people can be; how caring other writers can be. You see, we want our friends to succeed, because by achieving ‘publication’ we take some vicarious credit for their success. We have contributed to their craft in some modest way. One friend, a wonderful lady in Australia, actually mentioned me by name, giving me credit for a very minor contribution to her excellent work, now beautifully published by a new independent publisher, born out of shared experiences gained from Authonomy. I was genuinely touched at that. Ok, if you insist, I will name her and her fantastic book; Greta van der Rol and ‘Die a Dry Death’. I’ll name her publisher too; Diiarts. If you will accept a word of advice, go and buy a copy now. While you are there, add ‘May 1812′, by M. M. Bennetts and ‘Harbour’, by Paul House to your shopping basket. They are each wonderful, inspiring authors. I am lucky to have ‘found’ Greta because she opened a window for me. And Lorri Procter, another dear friend. She too gave unselfishly of her time and experience to guide my virgin hand as I tapped away working on my characters, my plot, the scenes I tried to paint. Lorri has published several books. Google ‘The Crimson Bed’ or ‘The Long Shadow’. There are others, talented people who inspire imagination in others; give reason to re-examine one’s work and to illuminate the way to polish and improve.
Now it seems, I am to join that group of fortunates and one day see my scratchings on the printed page, bound and within the covers of ‘a book’. A legacy for my children and their children.
Do you see why I am a lucky man?