Putting Pen to Paper

I really believe most people have a book in them – whether it’s a novel, a family history, a kid’s story, a guide or even a recipe book. Our lives are all woven with experiences, memories, ideas and the things that make us tick. It’s just a matter of having the urge to share a story and actually getting the words out. So, if your book has just been sitting on a shelf inside your head, perhaps you think it’s too big a task. The key is to just start somewhere…anywhere.

I remember some of the first articles I wrote as a journalist seemed insurmountable. It wasn't the writer's block of a blank mind, it was getting all the disorganised thoughts in my head, the research and quotes into a coherent piece of work and not knowing where to start. Over time, I knew to just ignore that fear-mongering inner voice and do it anyway. That's all you have to do. Just write a line. Tap away at the rest like a sculptor forming something out of a piece of limestone. It might be a while before you get to the stage where it just needs a final polish, but it's perseverance that gets you there.

When I decided to write a book, I simply wanted to create something special for my little boys. So, I wrote the plot for The Hunt for Polar One into a notebook one evening. The next thing I jotted down were all the characters. From there, I figured out the order of events and then the type of rhyme I wanted. I was inspired by The Lion who Wanted to Love by Giles Andreae. The rhyme reads well and it has such heart. So I decided on the four-line verse and then I just wrote. It took me a week to pen it (amongst wrangling kids, other work obligations and stuff that always gets in the way). Then it needed editing, tweaking, reading out loud, making sure the words flowed and actually rhymed properly – not just in my Kiwi accent.

Since this was a labour of love, for once I didn’t have a deadline. I often wonder how it would have turned out if I was under time pressure from a publisher. I had the luxury of putting the manuscript into a drawer and pulling it out again when I felt like reviewing it. Aspects of the storyline, the characters and even some words were hugely personal. For a start, I knew this story needed to incorporate a magic carpet somehow. My father used to tell me magic carpet tales when I was little. He never read to me, he preferred to make stories up as he went along peppered by a long Scottish “aaaand” while he thought of the next line. What was so memorable about those stories is that I, little me, starred in them. It’s amazing how proud I felt to be the protagonist even if it was just made up on the spot by a very tired dad after a hard day of bricklaying.

My father had a talent for story telling. These stories usually involved me, (the youngest with three older brothers) being left out of something - such as fishing. I’d wander into the garden shed and feeling bored, fossick around. I’d find a strange object wrapped in brown paper, dust it off and open it only to find an old beautiful ornate rug. I'd spread it out admiringly, sit on it, and think whimsically about how I wish I could have gone with my brothers. The carpet would suddenly lift up into the air and, to my huge astonishment, whisk me away to the local lake. I’d hover above the water, catching huge fish with my bare hands and fly back home - with a description of all the local landmarks from above along the way (probably to stretch out the story, till Dad thought of an ending). Then I saw the red roof tiles of our house.

When my brothers returned, empty handed and disappointed, I’d smugly show them the huge fish I caught which I demonstratively hung up on the rotary clothes line in the back yard. Their mouths would gape, their eyes would pop out of their heads and they would promise NEVER again to leave me (this genius fishergirl they were lucky enough to call their brilliant sister) behind. Ha!

Sadly, Dad passed away last year, before the book was published, but he saw the draft and the illustrations. He was there for an exhibition of my children’s book “a work in progress” at a gallery event where the pages were projected onto the wall. I’m pretty sure he was delighted.

My magic carpet in The Hunt for Polar One is a bit different but it’s a nod to the stories of my childhood. I wanted my boys to feel special through this story, just as I did as a little girl, so they are the protagonists in this tale too. The other characters are the magical things which make their childhood so fun. There's the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa. Belief in these just bring kids joy and of course adults relive their childhoods through them too. I try to protract this other-worldly aspect of their childhood as long as possible. My 8 year old still believes in Santa and the Tooth Fairy. The Easter Bunny is edging into being a rodent of dubious authenticity. The 11 year old just goes along with it all. He knows how to milk the situation because Mum loves this stuff so much.

You can meet the boys’ grandpa and granny about 13 pages into the book. Granny really is a super granny and they absolutely adore her. She’s hugging Jamie in one picture. The boys get daily cuddles from her. I think there is something personal on every page. Whether it’s the saying “suffering catfish” which Grandpa taught Leo when he was just four who’d then proclaim this odd expression at the funniest of times, or the brass bellows hanging by the fireplace in Santa’s house. We had those next to our fireplace when I was growing up.

Then there are the two polar bears. Jamie is a big school boy now but STILL has them (shhhhhh). He’s not as attached anymore but they’re still in bed with him every night and he marches down the stairs upon waking every morning with one tucked under each arm. The first polar bear was a baby gift. It became the thing he needed every night in order to go to sleep and a source of comfort when he was upset. Kids just get attached to stuff. If it’s not a dummy (pacifier) then it’s often a stuffed toy or blanket. Psychologists have written many a thesis on object attachment theory. Suffice to say, it’s a real thing and probably cave babies had a pet rock they carted around with them, too.

There have been more than a few panicked moments when the original Polar was lost when Jamie was a toddler. Once it was at a huge outdoor event. Some kind soul had found it and placed it on top of the entrance gate. I remember that day. I spotted it with tears in my eyes from a distance - I must have been feeling particularly hormonal to be teary over a lost stuffed toy. What a relief that reunion was though.

After that, it was decided the bear had to stay home and we’d try to get a back up. A friend sourced one for me in Germany. Yeah, of course the favourite toy wouldn’t be available at the local Toy World, it had to be from the other end of the planet. Somehow, and I’m not sure when this happened, the second polar bear became just as important as the first. So, instead of looking for one bear every night, there were two of the blighters to retrieve from under a sofa or inside a magazine rack. I’d yell out to hubby, “Have you found Polar Two? (It looked newer and you could tell them apart) I can only find Polar One!” Polar One and Polar Two were now a duo – double trouble for us. Oh dear.

So without a doubt, my book is personal but what makes a work a labour of love, I wonder? It doesn’t have to be as overtly personal as my tale but a passion, insight, experience or desire must be the seed of inspiration that encourages people to share their words with others.

Writing can’t possibly be about money or recognition. There’s not a lot of that going around in the literary world – only relatively few lucky ones can earn a living from it. It might be about a wish to entertain, it might be about helping people, enticing tolerance and understanding, or maybe it’s just to leave a legacy.

For whatever reason people write, if it’s fuelled by a passion on some level, it must be a labour of love. It’s not just about crafting words, it’s about sharing your inner world and sticking at it till you’re done. I hate to think of the wonderful, inspiring and beautiful stories that have not been told because people have taken them into their graves - too afraid or intimidated to have ever just put pen to paper.


Please leave a comment and tell me what/who inspired you to write or what story you’re hoping to pen. Or else, just leave a note to say “hi”. I’d love to hear from you.

Shiree SchumacherComment