Since publishing my novel The Chronicles of the Tiny Island, many people told me that they always wanted to write a book. It seems part of human nature to share our thoughts and emotions with others. Some of us want to express thoughts and feelings that are in us. Often, we have already pondered about them for a long time. Others simply want to tell about their defeats and victories or share their exciting life paths. I think that it makes us human that we want to share our life stories with others.
The novel that I have written is part of my life story. It talks about my defeats and victories and a few other things. It also has a message: that we should always be true to ourselves; that we should stay in the love that is in us, that we should remain in our heart space when we interact with other human beings, that we should show compassion and kindness; that we should forgive each other – even those that we think cannot be forgiven. It is a message of staying in love, maintaining hope and having faith. That is why the banner under the emblem on the first page of my book talks exactly about this thought: fidem, spem et caritatem. It means that we should have faith, hope and love, or more precisely stay in faith, hope and love.
I believe that simply telling a story about how I arrived in Mauritius would be utterly boring. That is why I used my imagination and wrote an animal fable. My fantasy took flight while writing and suddenly not only a tigress, a lion, a black panther, a cheetah and a brown bear appeared but also a golden hare, a giant watersnake, various dragons and a phoenix entered the world of the Tiny Island. The good animals had to unite not only against the evil Capricorn and his followers. They were also challenged by a mysterious disease that spread quickly across the island, a volcano eruption and poison potions that a Blue Whale had accidentally swallowed and which were leaking into the ocean out of the dead Whale.
When I was asked to contribute an article to this newspaper on how to write a novel, Stephen King’s magnificent book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft immediately came to my mind. A fellow author recommended it to me after I had just finished the first draft of my fiction novel. When I started to think more about the process of writing, I realised that Stephen King and I have something in common, apart from writing a significant word count per day. That something shaped us both as fiction authors, him – at an early stage of his life, me – only years later after choosing a different career path.
You may think that this secret ingredient is the passion for writing. Passion is required for any form of art – singing, painting or writing. But passion is not enough. Writing is an obsession. It is all consuming, all demanding. You have to leave more or less everything behind in order to succeed. At least that is how I feel about it. The art of writing is a craft that requires incredible determination and stamina. As Maria Callas pointed out in relation to opera singing: it is ten percent talent and ninety percent hard work.
I mean something else that I share with Mr. King, other than the passion or obsession for writing, as you may see it. As a writer, you do not have to have experienced many adventures or seen a lot of places unless you decide to publish travel books. I believe that in order to become a successful author, you had to have had your fair share of pain – a lot of pain that tormented your soul, that shaped and changed you for ever, that made you a writer.
I think that most authors of well-known novels have not been thoroughly happy people. At least at some point of their lives, they have all experienced deep pain that is often ingrained in their souls. In short, writers are torn characters.
Stephen King had a scattered childhood. He and his brother were raised by an underprivileged single mother who moved from one small town to another. His mother was working non-stop and did not have much time for her children – simply because she was fighting for survival of her little family. The father had run away, leaving behind only debt and bad memories.
I cannot compare my childhood to Stephen King’s. In contrast to his, my childhood was almost a fairy tale. I felt protected by my parents, as they were loving and caring. Their life paths were far from easy, but we all have our struggles. My father is an artist and my mother a lawyer who practiced until recently. Both are very intellectual and read a lot; sometimes alone, but most of the time they read to each other aloud. I believe that reading to each other forms an incredible bond. You should try it out and you will feel the magic that it creates.
Coming back to how I found my calling: my father often portrayed me as a child. From an early age onwards – I was only four or five years old – he painted me and I had to sit still. Of course, little girls do not like to be glued to a chair and I was a wild child. My father, who is an excellent storyteller, invented fairy tales so that I had to come to the next painting session to find out how the story ended. I always thought that it was a fair deal as he told us children bedtime stories every evening on top of it.
I often felt like Alice in Wonderland as a child. However, I did not have to fall into a rabbit hole in order to enter the fantasy world of dragons, knights and brave little girls – I only had to sit still and listen to my father while he painted me. I think that those childhood years formed me to become the writer I am today. Hence, my first novel became a modern fairy tale where the good animals fight against the evil Capricorn and his followers.
But not only listening to a flood of my father’s stories shaped me, I also read an incredible number of books – winters in Europe are long and cold. When I was ten or eleven years old, I was usually obsessed with only one author at a time and I could not rest until I had read all of their books. I was known as the little pigtail girl who carried up to ten books at once out of the public library and who always brought them back late – then fiercely negotiating with the librarian to drop the late payment fees. I believe that those early negotiations formed my later career as a lawyer, but that is a different story.
As a teenager, my world changed. I still enjoyed fairy tales and I vividly remember how I went to my parent’s library when I was fourteen and stole the book One Thousand And One Nights which I read under my pillow.
My teenage years were also my first period of darkness – the first time I felt pain in my soul that fuelled my creativity. After my parents saw me for months walking alone in the nearby woods with my earphones plugged in, listening to Mozart’s Requiem, they decided that something had to change. Hence, they signed me up for classical singing lessons. I am grateful to them that they did as I still enjoy classical singing. When I sang, I could channel my pain that was caused by the mere fact of puberty and a changing mind and body. This was also the time when I started to write – journals full of overflowing emotions, poems and little short stories.
At eighteen, I met my late husband and love struck. I was happy and forgot all about writing as I was busy living my life and enjoying the time as a couple and later as a little family. Only once, I was Alice in Wonderland again, when I went to Worcester College at Oxford. There, a long tunnel leads from the college quads to the magical Worcester gardens with their unique lake. Every time I walked through the tunnel into those beautiful gardens with countless blossoming flowers, ancient trees and the famous Worcester ducks, I transformed into Alice. There, amidst the magic of those gardens, I not only studied but also started to write poems again, inspired by the beauty of that place. My writing was quite mellow, though, as those were happy times.
The pain came back only years later when I lost my husband from one day to another. Three years after that loss and an extensive grieving period, a novelist was born – someone who combines her fairy-tale inspired childhood with the adversities of the later years; someone who strives to become whole and happy again.
The fiction novel The Chronicles of the Tiny Island by Ash Phoenix is available at all Bookcourt shops. To find out more about the author, her fiction novel and her poems, you can go to her website http://www.ash-phoenix.com.