When I started this series of essays and asked people to contribute, I wondered if I’d have any interested writers. But it’s turned into a beautiful series of personal stories that have really spoken to not just me, but to readers, too, as this series is always more popular than my usual posts!
I’ve felt very moved by the stories I’ve read, particularly how many of the women writers I’ve featured who harboured dreams of writing a book for decades before they were able to, often putting the family needs before their own. Even if they stopped writing, they never stopped wanting to write, and eventually found a way to do it.
Today’s guest, Maureen Eppen, has been a reader and writer for many years, learning to read before she started kindy, and then pursuing her love of words as a journalist, and more recently through her own creative writing.
I’ve come to know Maureen fairly recently, particularly after she allowed me to copy her book club set up and helped me start ours. It’s simply not possible to find a kinder, more encouraging person than Maureen. And she’s a wonderful writer, too.
Here’s what she has to say:
With nothing to lose, you just might win
I write every day, and have done for as long as I can remember. I also read every day, and have done for even longer than I have been writing.
I learnt to read before I went to kindergarten, having begged the oldest of my two sisters to share her school reading books with me. She helped me to identify the individual letters of the alphabet until they transformed in my mind into words and sentences. And when those words and sentences emerged as stories, I embarked on a journey of discovery that has continued throughout my life – a journey into fictional and real worlds revealed and explored between the pages of books.
In my final years of high school, I knew I wanted to get a job that would allow me to indulge my passion for reading or writing, or both. Work experience at the local library convinced me that the lot of a librarian was not for me, and I knew I didn’t possess the leadership potential to become an English teacher.
Then, three-quarters of the way through my Year 12 studies, my Mum spotted an advert in the local paper calling for applications for the position of cadet journalist at its sister publication in the coastal town of Mandurah.
Although I had not even considered a career in journalism before that date, something clicked into place, and I instinctively knew this was the job for me.
As such things were done in those days, I wrote my application by hand, added carbon copies of references from my English Expression and English Literature teachers (I still have the originals), and posted them in an envelope sealed with the hope that I would be granted an interview.
I remember every moment of that interview, chiefly because it represents so perfectly the way that a person’s fortunes can change in a moment.
A friend drove me to the interview, about 25 minutes from the suburb where we lived, and her car broke down on a two-lane highway, about 10 minutes’ drive from our destination.
In the days before mobile phones, we had to rely on the kindness of a stranger, who stopped at the roadside and offered to call the RAC once he got to his workplace.
We had set off from home with at least half an hour to spare but, by the time the RAC arrived and sorted the problem, I ended up being about five minutes late for the group interview – and walked into the room just as the head of the interview panel was telling the other applicants about the importance of punctuality for journalists.
Contrary to what you might expect, I was no longer nervous. The worst had happened. I had turned up late for the interview, the seven or eight other candidates were now at an advantage.
But I was armed with the power of having nothing left to lose. And I shone.
In the absence of fear, I answered the panellist’s every question with confidence and consideration.
When quizzed about the state of Australian politics at the time, I was the only one who responded – and although I answered two questions incorrectly, I could at least name the major political parties and some interstate premiers.
I had proven I had the confidence to speak out in a group, and that I had at least a cursory knowledge of who was making news nationally. I was the single candidate shortlisted from that interview, and the panellists didn’t shortlist another from the next group interview – choosing, instead, to offer me the job.
Somewhat cheekily, in hindsight, I asked if I could start at the end of the year, once I’d completed my Year 12 exams. If they found I wasn’t suitable for the job, or I found it wasn’t what I expected, I would still have the potential to gain a place at university.
Thirty-four years later, I’m still working as a journalist, and I’ve been a freelancer for 20 of those years – writing stories for newspapers and magazines, relishing the flexibility of being based at home while my daughters were growing, and indulging my compulsion to write, write, write.
Real estate, new homes, employment, education and lifestyle stories have been my freelance bread and butter, but the icing on my writing cake has been the opportunity to read and review books for Good Reading magazine, and to interview authors from Australia and around the world, including Pulitzer Prize-winner Geraldine Brooks, the late, great Colleen McCullough, Philippa Gregory, Lisa Genova, Graeme Simsion and the incomparable Isabel Allende.
Earlier this year, I also started writing a column for Good Reading, about my ambition to write my first novel. The intention was that by committing to a monthly update on its progress, I might actually write the damn thing, which has been “in the planning stages” for a number of years, blocked by a genuine fear that my writing will not live up to my ideals.
Spurred by the recent publication of a non-fiction story in the Let’s Face It anthology, the writing successes of a number of friends, old and new, and the absolutely thrilling experience of signing the contract for my first children’s picture book, to be published through Serenity Press in late 2017, I’ve added more words to my novel in the last month than in the previous 12 months, and I’m determined to keep at it.
I write every day, and have done for as long as I can remember. I also read every day, and have done for even longer than I have been writing. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
I have one more guest for 2016, the wonderful Lily Malone, who will join me next week. Lily was a guest in the attic back in 2014, and much has happened in her writing career since then. She has some gutsy news, so please return next week to read about it …
If you’d like to be part of Writers in the Attic in 2017, let me know via the Contact page. Around 600-1,000 words is a good length, and the topic is, ‘What writing means to me’.