I grew up in a world without books; no one read to me when I was a baby or when I was a child. I did not have a bookshelf in my room filled with books by Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens or Dr Seuss. In the living room, the bookshelf housed only an old bible, a hundred year old text on veterinary science and horses, and volume one of Readers Digests Classic Adventure Stories. The rest of the space was taken up by pot plants, photographs and empty coffee cups.
But, we children grew up in a world of story-tellers, surrounded by the voices of our elders who, often around the fireplace with someone strumming a guitar, would swap tales of people, places and things: what happened this afternoon, the other day, late last year or once upon a time.
My mother also filled our heads with stories: we would listen to her as she spoke on the phone, over the smoko in the shearing shed or in the car on our trips into town. She would paint us pictures with her words and, when I was old enough, I began to do the same. And, my mother is responsible for my discovering that I could read outside the structure of my primary classroom: I was nine years old and made to stay in bed with her and my new born sister. Mum needed a rest and I was a fidgety and unpredictable child so she plonked me beside her in the double bed and shoved the Readers Digest volume into my hands.
Bored with trying to sit still and quiet so as not to wake the baby, I turned to the first chapter of Call of the Wild. With a stubby finger, I picked out the individual letters and was surprised to see them swim together into recognisable words. The words joined the others on the page and within moments I had dived deep into the Alaskan wilderness: my mother, my sister and the hot afternoon gone.
The first time I was really conscious of how words could be shaped and manipulated by the writer was when I read the bone people. I loved that Keri Hulme decided how a word could look on a page – that if you were trying to explain the colour bluey-type greeny-type colour you could write bluegreen; that the rhythm of your sentences could (and should) reflect the meaning of your sentences so, when Keriwan is describing her ascent up the stairwell, I marvelled that I was not only being led up visually, but phonetically and syntactically. It was like my quirky, whacked out way of looking at the world and words had found its home in another’s writing.
Writing is my compass. It is the road map for my learning about my world. Writing, to me, is an adventure: I don’t always know where I am going, how long my journey will take or what I will discover on the way. Writing is the outward evidence of the ever-present curious child which asks ‘why’ or ‘why not’.
Currently I have taken extended leave from my profession as a secondary English teacher while I finish my BA in Māori from Otago University and research and write a couple of novels which have been banging about in my head for years. For more about me, visit my website: www.tkroxborogh.com
Here is some recent writing advice I gave to an aspiring writer:
· Be a reader and writer. Write and Read. Lots and Lots.
· Go to courses, read books on writing (like Stephen King's On Writing), visit writing festivals and listen to people who are doing it.
· Enter as many competitions as you can (and don't worry about not getting placed - it's the discipline that helps improve your craft.) I wrote this on my T.K. Roxborogh Facebook author's page just the other day: "just as doctors say all exercise is exercise (vacuuming, walking the dog) and it improves your health, I say the same with writing: ALL writing improves your craft - so long as you take care with it. FB posts, emails, assignments, poetry, prose - the same rules apply: take care with the details, be clear about what you want to say so that others understand you. Select the best words. Read your work aloud (even emails!) Be like someone who never leaves the house without lippy (or a tie). Whenever you're presenting yourself (through your words) to the public, run a comb through your hair, check your reflection in the mirror and put on tidy clothes (metaphorically speaking.)"
· Get involved in writing groups/ volunteer at libraries and festivals. Get to know other writers and get INTO the world of writing and publishing. Make friends. Always be nice becausee you never know who might remember you at just the right time.
The biggest setbacks during the journey to becoming a successful author are:
· Self doubt which can be paralysing. All writers get it no matter how good they are and how many awards they've won.
· Arrogance - the belief that one cannot learn something or an unwillingness to shape a work to make it better. Young, aspiring writers need to keep their ears open and their mouths shut. For a long time. (but asking questions is good)
· Not enough time.
· Being in too much of a hurry to get a work out before it's had enough time to 'cook'