When I was about five years old, I finished my first story. Cassette players were in abundance and my family owned quite a few cassette stories and picture books – the kind where you read along with the tape and it indicates with a noise when to turn the page.
Using all the ingenuity I could muster as a kid still in single digits, I drew a cassette player on paper and cut out a slot for my paper tape. I then invented my story, wrote it out in a little picture book constructed with folded A4 paper and coloured pencils. When it was finished, I diligently showed it to my parents and had them read along as I narrated.
It was about three of my favourite plush toys at the time – a kangaroo named Joey, a well-loved little pink rabbit called Pinky, and a little grey mouse (whose name escapes me, but knowing the boundless imagination of my younger self, it was probably called Mousey).
The story was a dramatic adventure, where the three young protagonists ventured into the great outdoors during a brewing storm. As the storm grew more dangerous, they became lost and found themselves in imminent danger when a large tree trunk was struck by a vicious bolt of lightning. It plummeted towards them and there seemed to be no escape. At the final moment, a large female kangaroo came to their rescue, using its powerful legs to kick the falling trunk away from the three protagonists. It was Joey’s mother. Relieved rather than cross, she shepherded them home where they reflected on their grand journey in safety.
Creative young mind aside, I did something with my first story that only occurred to me much later on.
I wrote about what I knew.
The relationship between a child and their parent, the dream to explore and learning you weren’t quite ready for the world yet, and depending on your family to protect you. The three kids were based off my toys – partly because I could act out the story with them whenever I wanted, but also partly because I was growing up watching cartoons where animals were often the main characters.
Writing about what’s around me has become an integral part of my writing style, and my number one advice to anyone who wants to write but doesn’t know where to begin. Check out newspapers for story ideas, draw out the feelings from a negative experience and put them into words, catch snippets of conversation in public, and flesh out dreams.
Starting isn’t necessarily about having a brilliant idea or a plot already fully formulated in your mind. It’s about drawing on little details to establish a believable world, whether that world has talking plush animals or otherwise.