Category Archives: Awe and Wonder

Why Stephen Hawking is one of several figures who inspire me.

Why Do You Write?

Light through forestWhy do we write? This important question has been asked countless of times.

The response is probably as varied as the people asking it, ranging from the rather vague – I write because I have to, to the more pragmatic – it helps pay the bills.

But writing is such a difficult and lonely activity that I believe there has to be a deeper and more significant reason that explains why we keep returning to our keyboards.

Why is it important to know? Because when we lose our way – and sooner or later we all do, when the muse and market-place glance the other way, when the critics descend upon us like a plague of locusts – we need to grab hold of that reason and use it to help pull ourselves back up to higher ground.

“It pays the bills,” won’t do then. There are other easier ways to pay the bills. Neither will, “I write because I have to,” since during such times it doesn’t feel like you have to at all.

The answer is probably two-fold. The first part is true for most writers: realise that what you’re feeling now will inevitably change. Your strength and self-belief in your abilities will return, prompted by more positive reviews, fresh insights, wonderful new ideas, better sales.

The second part you have to work out for yourself. What is it about the craft of writing, specifically, that brought you to the deep well in the first place? Remember that feeling you had when you wrote that first paragraph, page, chapter, that got you hooked.

For me it was a short story I wrote for a school assignment about the unbounded joy a homeless kid feels when he finds a shiny coin in the street. The idea sprang out of nowhere and practically wrote itself. I remember that last line well. It said: “And in his little black hand, the shiny 50 cent piece was set off even more.” Naive as it was, it had heart and a social conscience beyond my conscious ability to craft it.

The story made it to the school’s end-of-year magazine and proved to me that there was a voice inside me that had something to say if I could just find a way to activate it. It was the start of my journey.

I’m sure you have an equally meaningful memory about the moment when you first realised that you had something to say. Remind yourself of it when the going gets tough. It may just help you get back on track.

Summary

Never forget the moment when you first realised you had something to say as a writer.

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Why Do You Write? No, Really!

Girl with arms outstretched

Why Do You Write?

The opinions below, are, of course, entirely my own.

Why do you write? This is, perhaps, the most important question I pose my students at the beginning of any new creative writing course. If they’re not sure, if they scratch their heads, study the ceiling, or choose that moment to text their friends, I advise them to take a break and think seriously about their motivation.

What I feel like saying is: Are you sure you want to do this?

Those of us who contemplate a career in writing, specifically in storytelling — especially as novelists — had better know. If we’re not driven by the unstoppable desire to write, if we’re not obsessed with understanding every nuance, texture and colour of a word, if our pulse doesn’t race when we hit that golden vein in a written passage, we’d be better off taking up a hobby instead.

Writing is hard. Accomplished writing is even harder. Earning a living as a writer is possible, thanks to the tablet revolution and marketplaces such as amazon.com, but it demands steely dedication, talent and luck. To make it as a writer you need to put your head down, keep learning your craft, on a daily basis, and never, ever, give up.

Knowledge and experience of the world are not enough, although they are required. Deep philosophical ideas are enriching, but they too, are not the secret—you want to impress me with your perspective on Existentialism? Go write an article in a philosophy journal. Ideas, at the cost of story, do not make for compelling novels, except for niche or elite readers. Nor, does artistic temperament, on its own. Sensitivity towards others and observational skills are essential, but they, too, are not sufficient.

So, what, in addition to the above, does one need to become a successful writer? The answer, I think, is rather obvious:

PASSION!

Passion is the secret ingredient that makes even the toughest journey enjoyable. Passion turns work into play and sweat into joy. Without passion you lose focus. Without passion you merely slog.

So, why do I write?

I write because passion compels me to. I have no choice. I can’t imagine anything else I’d rather do. Not in a million years. If I did, I’d be better off taking up bowls.

Summary

Passion is the essential ingredient in developing your writing career.

Image: Camdiluv
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

Amazon, Mon Amour!

Glances and hearts

Amazon Love:

In today’s post I want to pay a personal tribute to Amazon. Now, I do realise that it is sometimes unpopular to align one’s self with a large institution such as Amazon, an institution whose operational style might be seen, by some, as predatory. But, with all due respect to contrasting views, I make no apology for this.

No. I don’t own shares in the company, nor do I work for it—although, I do, in a real sense, work with Amazon to achieve my personal goals.

Let me explain.

Some fourteen years ago, whilst working as the resident screenwriter for Elmo De Witt Films in South Africa, I wrote a short novel called Scarab. A fellow South African writer read it, liked it, and recommended it to his publisher at Perscor. The book generated interest with the local branch of the company, but before it could go further, the branch closed down and some of its staff relocated to Cape Town to form a new company. The South African economy was shaky at the time, and businesses were folding one after another. This was during the early days of Nelson Mandela’s Apartheid-free South Africa and the country was excited, nervous and focused on more important things. I was advised to try to find another publisher, failing which, I should contact the Cape Town group and take it from there.

I never did.

I was eyeing Australia at the time, busy with my graphics and animation company, and somehow, I let things slide. I suppose the fear of rejection also played a role.

As time slipped by, I found myself teaching and studying in Australia, while a little device called the Kindle gathered in strength and popularity. The thought occurred to me that there was no harm in updating my novel (the pentium processors mentioned in my old revisions of Scarab were now passé), with the view to publishing it on Amazon.com as a Kindle ebook. And so I did.

I’d love to say that the rest is history, and offer some rags-to-riches story, but, sadly, that wouldn’t quite be the truth. What is true, however, is that since that day, I haven’t looked back. Scarab performed better than I had ever expected, hitting the #1 spot in the bestseller list in High-Tech Scifi, both at amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. And some two years later, the novel is still holding a place on the same bestseller list, while its off-spring, Scarab II: Reawakening, has staked its own bestseller claim on amazon.co.uk.

The effect of this small gift of success was to grant me confidence that with enough hard work, output and dedication, I could eventually earn a living solely through my writing. What a rush for any writer!

The truth is that without Amazon’s global reach and innovative vision for the future of books, its research and development, its success in making reading “cool” again for the younger generation through the introduction of its Kindle tablets and software, Scarab would have remained a pile of pages on my shelf, placed in a box, gotten lost, and Scarab II would never have seen the light of day. My dream of being a writer might never have materialised—not for me, and perhaps, not for many other authors who have trodden a similar path to mine. This has been an opportunity for which, I, for one, am deeply grateful.

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Why Stephen Hawking is not the only reason I write science fiction

This is a blog writ­ten by a writer, but it isn’t aimed only at writ­ers. It is aimed at those who have cher­ished dreams, felt awe at the achieve­ments of oth­ers, yet never got around to doing any­thing about it them­selves: Too many respon­si­bil­i­ties. Never enough time. Too much self-doubt. Sounds famil­iar? It should. This blog, then, is really about you and me and the inspi­ra­tion which makes any achieve­ment pos­si­ble.

For a while, I con­sid­ered mak­ing Stephen Hawk­ing the main focus of this sub­ject. After all, my novel, Scarab, draws its moti­va­tion from quan­tum physics, an area that Stephen Hawk­ing has writ­ten exten­sively about. In many ways, Hawk­ing per­son­i­fies the best in all of us — for­mi­da­ble courage in the face of debil­i­tat­ing ill­ness, high-octane bril­liance, and an insa­tiable sense of humor. His work on astron­omy and black holes is a source of inspi­ra­tion to sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers every­where. Surely, the great­est mind since Ein­stein would offer the best back­drop to any rumi­na­tion about sci­ence, art, and the imag­i­na­tion? Per­haps. But it would not be com­pletely hon­est. There is another man, not as bril­liant, nor as famous, who inspires me even more. That man is my father.

As a small boy grow­ing up in Athens, I loved sto­ries – Twenty Thou­sand Leagues Under the Sea, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Moby Dick, Alice in Won­der­land, The Time Machine. My par­ents would take turns recount­ing these tales to me from mem­ory, since we had no easy access to books. We were des­per­ately poor. I’m told that we had fled Egypt years pre­vi­ously with only the clothes on our backs — in my case, a nappy, since I was barely a year old at the time. Greece, then, as now, was in the midst of a sus­tained eco­nomic cri­sis. My father was a skilled fitter-and-turner, and often worked three dif­fer­ent jobs a day to make ends meet, yet, he barely man­aged to put enough food on the table. There was cer­tainly no extra money for books. But that did not stop me from mak­ing up my own sto­ries.

My favorite topic was outer space. Russia’s Yuri Gagarin had been the first man to orbit the earth a few years pre­vi­ously, and that left a last­ing impres­sion on every­one. In response, Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy announced that Amer­ica would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, and got busy get­ting it done. Maybe it was because the space pro­gram kept our chins up by forc­ing our gaze sky­wards; maybe it was because it touched the inef­fa­ble in us; what­ever rea­son, we couldn’t not stop talk­ing about it. We talked about it at the gro­cery store, the bus stop, the church, and at school; and, of course, we talked about it around our Spar­tan din­ner table. What keeps the moon up, I wanted to know. What lies beyond the edge of the uni­verse, my mother would ask and dunk another ladle of hot lentil soup into my bowl. And my father would glance up at the ceil­ing and laugh in awe of it all.

He had a small lathe and some old tools in one of the rooms of our small house that he used to make shafts and pis­tons for clients for a bit of extra money. One day he decided that he’d make amends for my lack of books. He mounted some rods left over from past jobs into his lathe and, like a magi­cian, pro­ceeded to turn them into mag­nif­i­cent toy rock­ets. He painted them red, yel­low, sil­ver and blue with old paint he had mixed him­self, left them to dry, and then sur­prised me with them the fol­low­ing day. It was the best gift any­one had ever given me, then, or since, and some­thing I have never for­got­ten. I picked them up in awe and won­der and took to rac­ing through our tiny house and even tinier gar­den with a rocket in each hand, try­ing not to bump into things, but really, I was trans­vers­ing the stars.

Recently, my father turned 82. He now lives in South Africa with my mother. I live in Aus­tralia. My sis­ter, born ten years after me, lives an hour’s drive from them. Father still runs his own busi­ness and still works with lathes and tools, although the lathe is now called a CNC machine and the tools are best and lat­est of their kind. A man of small stature and lit­tle for­mal edu­ca­tion, he ban­ished self-doubt, made the time, found the inspi­ra­tion, and relent­lessly set about achiev­ing every goal he ever set his mind to. How can I do any less?

Decid­ing to take the Indie route to pub­lish­ing, dar­ing to imag­ine a time when our hobby is our full time job is daunt­ing. Some­times the fuel runs low and inspi­ra­tion wanes. But as I amble towards my key­board to begin work­ing on my next novel since Scarab, I can’t help think­ing about my father, Gagarin, J.F.K., Hawk­ing, and those red, yel­low, sil­ver, and blue toy rock­ets that started it all. And this fills me with a quiet confidence.