As I write this, I’ve clocked 33 years on this earth. This number also happens to be the title of the pilot episode of Battlestar Galactica. Remember that episode? Every 33 minutes, on the dot, a wave of Cylons appears, ostensibly to wipe out the human survivors. There is no sleep. There is no respite. There is only adrenaline, and a tiny sliver of hope that the next 33 minutes will not bring blood and death screaming through the coldness of space on the metal wings of Cylon Raiders.
Somewhat disturbingly, this has been an apt analogy for my work life in the past month or so. I must be cleverer, faster, more agile than I’ve ever been before to make this work—to ensure that my latest path of meaningful occupation, Firewords, helps as many writers as possible. I chose this path, and I knew it would not be easy. I also knew that I could not turn away from it.
This is why.
I am hurtling (seemingly) backwards on a railway train in Malaysia, surrounded by swathes of emerald-green paddy fields. The oil palm and rubber plantations are my favourite. They are not as obviously picturesque as the brilliant green rice fields, with their sheets of water still as glass, mirroring cloudless skies above. Yet, the plantations speak to me.
I love the plantations because of the happy confluence of symmetry and mystery contained within the quiet rows of bough and branch. Sombre shades of green palm leaves fringe the landscape, kissed by hints of gold from the mid-morning sun. The ground is stippled with light, just enough to dispel a sense of eeriness.
These sleepy plantations where the morning light flirts with the ground remind me of the wood between the worlds in Narnia. A lateral thinker brain and a constant yearning for narratives translates to a lot of time spent in this wood between the worlds. Infinite puddles in that forest each lead to a contained, complete world. Writers jump into these puddles all the time. If they are lucky and skilled enough, they bring the narratives of that world back with them.
It is fitting, perhaps, that my face is turned towards my starting point instead of my destination on this train. This is an apt analogy for my journey so far in getting the narratives from that wood between the worlds to ours. Eyes still on the starting point—more than I’d like, perhaps—I know where I’m going, and I know I’m moving, but mostly, it feels like I’m going backwards. This is simply an illusion of perspective, however. I get to my destination and realize that I really was getting closer to where I wanted to be all along.
It is fitting, because—as you will know if you have written fiction—the fairly masochistic process of creating a complete narrative feels like a railway journey where you can’t see your destination. You can only see where you came from. The whole time, you have a vaguely unsettling feeling that you may not end up where you intended. You have no idea if the true destination will be wondrous or terrible. You feel this even as each node of your plot plan, brought to life with ink and late nights, takes you closer to the final goal: the last chapter.
It is fitting, as I think about something that’s consumed me since the idea first wandered into my mind.
These days, my thoughts are constantly on how to release all the stories-in-waiting from the wood between the worlds. Not just my stories: everyone’s stories.
If you are a writer, retrieving stories from the wood between the worlds is a gift and a luxury. Having people read those stories is an even greater luxury. This should not be the case. Not in a time when crowdfunding, print-on-demand distribution and greater numbers of self-published authors are tearing down the barriers imposed by traditional publishing.
I feel very strongly about getting everyone’s stories to readers because I believe in narrative.
Narrative has great potential—and great power. To transform. To shine a light on the dark and terrible corners of ourselves, of the society we live in. Slipping into your favourite narrative at the end of a hard day is a lovely respite. Creating a narrative that people can use as a shelter from their daily lives is a great luxury. It is one of the most peculiar and beautiful gifts that you can offer to a complete stranger: a world they can lose themselves in, if only for a little while.
When people ask me why I write, they are sometimes surprised by my answer. I suspect they often do not believe me.
I don’t write fiction for money. I write for love.
I have a day job—several paths of meaningful occupation, in fact—and occasionally, people pay me for this meaningful occupation.
Writing fiction, particularly full-length fiction, is a act of love. I don’t particularly care about money, recognition or prestige from my fiction. I write fiction because I believe that it is a gorgeous, intricate gift. When I say ‘gift’, I do not mean the ability to write fiction. I mean the stories.
If just one person—just one—finds solace, joy, entertainment in a narrative that I have created, that makes it all worthwhile to me. The hours, the days, the sheer bloody-mindedness required to see a novel through to the last page. Just one happy reader makes it all worthwhile. (Of course, more than one happy reader is preferable.)
This is why I write.
This is why I believe that the barriers between stories and readers should be torn down.
This is why I’ve been consumed with getting Firewords off the ground. Breaking the barriers between unpublished stories and readers might seem like a fevered dream, but it is already happening. It will continue to happen.
Have you ever sat under a tree with sunlight drifting through its branches onto your face? A world without barriers between stories and readers is like that tree.
Like those glowing leaves kissed by the sun, each narrative illuminates, refreshes the spirit, raises questions that should be asked of ourselves, of how the world around us works—how things are and how they should be. Each lambent narrative, with veins of truth threading the fiction, frames the way we see the world a little differently.
This is why I want to be part of tearing down the barriers between stories and readers: I believe in stories.
I believe in your stories.