THIS SHORT ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN FOR ‘PASS IT ON’, THAT EXCELLENT EMAG AIMED AT EMERGING AND ESTABLISHED AUTHORS AND ILLUSTRATORS.
PERHAPS OTHERS WILL FIND IT INTERESTING?
I learnt my alphabet at the age of three and that set me on the path to becoming a voracious reader. It was my way of escaping a family that always seemed to be on the verge of chaos and I still use books as an escape route when life takes an unfortunate turn. Back then I made up lots of stories. But I never considered writing them down because there were too many strictures – I had teachers who pushed spelling and grammar at the expense of imagination and I supposed I was, at least on the outside, an obedient child. Even so as I grew older, when anything of significance happened no matter how traumatic, part of me always stood back, used that ‘shard of ice’ that other authors speak about, because I always knew that one day I would write about them.
I was in my early forties before I started jotting down some of my experiences and weaving them into stories which I sent off to various publishers. No luck there, because I really didn’t know what I was doing. My first promising experience was having an adult short story accepted by the ‘Australian’ which ran a ‘literary section’. Straight after that acceptance, this section ceased to exist and my story never appeared. My disappointment was profound.
Having come from twenty-five years of teaching secondary students English and History, my next attempt was a novel for Young Adults. I can’t remember what this novel was about, only that it had a fashionably long title that possibly had nothing to do with the story. But I was learning on the job. And my luck turned when Greenhouse Publishing under the title of ‘Dolly Fiction’ let it be known that they were looking for authors to write about independent girls in contemporary situations. Their rules were strict: a maximum of 32,000 words. No fantasy, science fiction or magic realism. In the space of a year I wrote four Dolly Fictions under the pseudonym of ‘Gerri Lapin’. I covered themes that have since been used many times by other authors: conflict between indigenous and western culture in “Understanding Jack”. Putting on a school musical in “Everything Changes”. Dropping out of school: “Working things out”. And the significance of body image in “Slim Pickings”.
Dolly Fiction’s payments were generous, but now knowing what I know, I wish I’d insisted on royalties instead of being paid outright, and written those books under my own name as they were widely published in the UK and South Africa and appeared in most school libraries. Many of our better known authors began their writing careers with Dolly Fiction. The problem now as I see it, is that these books had the unfortunate label of ‘romance’ which back in the 90’s seemed very unliterary, if not positively embarrassing. What a shame as many young women I meet have mentioned reading those books and from them absorbing some excellent values.