While I was still struggling to find my voice (about 11 years old at the time), my mother worried that I had Asperger’s. At fifteen, my English teacher gave me a C+ for an essay I had spent three weeks on and read out my best friend’s essay instead, something he had spent an hour on while listening to Cat Stevens at full volume. I was so livid with jealousy, I vowed never to write again. At twenty, while at uni, I wrote a three-hundred-page essay on some obscure animal disease called Heartworm and received the highest distinction at uni but I hated the dry, intellectual connotations it meant to a writer of fiction. At thirty, struggling with the demands of a PhD, I took a year off and wrote my first novel. As I was typing the hand-written pages onto the computer, a student at the terminal beside me collected my screwed up pages from the rubbish bin.
‘What are you doing that for?’ I asked him.
‘Because you’re going to be a famous writer one day,’ he said.
That guy was a fool. I was writing a science fiction novel that ended up getting more rejections than a leper at a beauty contest.
At forty, burnt out, divorced and bankrupt, I found temporary retreat in a Buddhist monastery. A monk came up to me as asked why was I hiding. I said I wasn’t hiding, just sitting under a tree to avoid the blazing sun. We got to talking. I said I wanted to be a writer. His words, I’ll never forget, resonated deeply with me.
‘You will meet him one day,’ he said.
‘Who?’ I asked.
‘The character in that book you are trying to write.’
Sure enough, ten years later, that character came into my life — a black cat called Rex Bender. He became a devil on my back, the voice that refused to leave until I exorcised him onto the page.
People don’t write books, their characters do.