What Gives Birth to a Novel?

March 16, 2018

I didn't grow up yearning to be an author. I tried my hand at a few things; dish pigging, brick cleaning, physiotherapy, commodities trading...then I started writing one day. I didn't have any real plan. I just felt compelled to fill a blank page. That compulsion was related to one very specific moment, a dawn bus ride through southern Mexico years earlier. 

 

I remember it so clearly, the act of writing those first scribbles, sitting awkwardly at my laptop, sweating bullets in Indonesia, guzzling bottled water. I was consumed with memories of bumping along a potholed highway through the Mexican desert, peering out the window, wiping sleep from my eyes to see a lone cactus standing tall and proud, casting a shadow hundreds of metres along the dirt all the way to the horizon, the first rays of sunshine transforming that cactus into the King of the Desert for one fleeting moment.

There was something magical about that moment. It stuck with me, seeing such a prickly and enduring creature doing its best to grow in the harshest of environments, trucking on as best it could in the only way it knew how. The vast reach of its shadow determined by its momentary place in a brutal world constantly moving around it.

 

That one vivid memory was the genesis of my writing. Filling one page led to another and another and eventually Slippery was a living, breathing novel. Something I created thanks simply to the decision to park it up at my laptop one balmy afternoon in Indonesia and seeing where a morning in Mexico would lead to next on the page. I learnt what every writer knows; if you truly surrender to the page, there's no telling where it might lead you. It's highly addictive, the act of filling those blank pages with words you can only hope a reader will tear through some day, left wanting more. But be careful, it's an activity far more dangerous than you may think. It has seen some of its best practitioners blow their brains out. Type carefully.

I'm not entitled to give any advice about writing, about what it takes to be a writer, about whether or not your stories are worth more attention than anyone else's, about how you could know if writing will lead you to madness or enlightenment, about anything like that. But I do know this, if you watch the world closely at all times, taking it all in, the good, the bad, the shameful, the immaculate, before long you will have a treasure chest of writing material ready to unleash on the page when you're good and ready. There's no rush. Patience is a virtue and watching the world is one of the last things available to everyone for free. But pay attention, every waking moment. The world is always trying to tell you something. Try not miss the memo. Then just plagiarise the earth's tales into your own scribbles, starting with the speck of gold dust that drew you to your laptop in the first place. Go on to win a few Man Bookers, a handful of cheeky Pulitzers. It's almost too easy...

 

Good luck and happy scribbling.

 

 

Liam Carroll is the author of Slippery, a story set in Southeast Asia about capitalism on steroids, it makes the world of Gordon Gecko look positively gentlemanly, and Sweet Dreams of Fanta, a nostalgic romp in time back to the Sydney of 1988, seen through the eyes of a freckly, moon-faced, seven year old, Fanta addict and devoted Balmain Tigers lover.

 

 

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