I'm there. It has begun. My PhD is underway. Now I find myself asking more questions than getting answers! Frustrating? Not really. I like asking questions...
Recently, I was asked "Why do you write?"
After suppressing my Northern English humour, tempting me to answer with, "Because I'm a lazy bastard" or "I don't have to get my hands dirty"... I forced myself to think about this and come up with an answer.
So... here's why I write.
I am a voice. For all those people who have a story to tell but don't know how to tell it.
In her essay "The Story that Matters", Tina Makereti struck a chord in me when she identified the need to give voice to those stories that are untold. I guess, this is a very personal thing, forged by my background and my experiences. When she writes about "minority voices", clearly along lines of ethnicity, this resonated in my life.
As a white, middle aged man in a post-colonial society I am a symbol of a certain degree of privilege. My colour and my gender open doors for me that others have to beat down. However, with my strong North Lancashire accent, and to some extent, my uncultured demeanor, it is clear to most English people that I am from the lowest echelons of British society - a society that is built, not so much along ethic lines, but on social class lines. As an academic, an educator and a writer, I have been looked upon as a minority figure within extremely middle-class-dominated arenas. The lower class boy who climbed the ladder.
But I am intensely proud of my background and do nothing to hide from it, or hide it from others. It is who I am, and who I will always be. I grew up on Barrow Island. I have suffered resentment from some fellow "Baz Islanders" for referring to it as run-down or deprived. But the truth is hard to swallow for many. It is run-down and deprived. But this is nothing to be embarrassed about. Some of the best people I know are from the Island. My parents still live there - and they live every day of their lives giving something to that community. How could I not be proud of that? Some of my fondest memories come from my friendships there. It is who I am.
Therefore, I often see my writing as providing some sort of voice for the people I represent. Often, writing is about being the voice of a community that has no voice. Telling it's stories. Showcasing it's characters for the world to see. It is also profoundly interesting to find that other lower class writers, from seriously underprivileged backgrounds, have very rich stories to tell. I grew up on my dad's stories. Although he'd never say he was a writer, his stories inspired me to travel and live and explore the world, then tell others about it. My voice is also his voice. But what struck me the most about Tina Makereti's essay was the issue of why we write and the consequences that are associated with that. Part of this is making tough decisions and accepting the risk that comes with that. Not everyone will like what you write and certainly not everyone will agree with it. Does this mean we shy away? As a writer of horror (and in the past other disturbing topics) I am often questioned about my character. In a recent TV interview with Paul Cleave, the host laughingly suggested that he may be slightly unhinged because his characters are. It was intended to be a glib remark, joking on the writer's motivation, but some time ago I had to fight for my professional integrity, my reputation, and my very career over a short fiction piece I published. As wrongheaded as this was by those concerned, it caused a great deal of trauma in several lives and left me scarred by the whole experience. It was also an extremely poignant moment in my life because it forced me to ask the question: why do I write? The personal conclusion I arrived at was, that to an audience, art can be anything. Entertaining. Nice. Pretty. Funny. Awesome. Skillful. Whatever. But for me as a writer, I think it falls to the creative community to ask difficult questions. To hold a mirror up to ourselves and challenge people to see things in a different way. To say the things we prefer to leave unsaid. To tread the hard paths that few feel comfortable treading. Often this can damage our feet. It did mine. But looking back, I'm glad I had the integrity to remain true to those values. As Tina Makareti suggested - we "write the hard thing", "write the unpopular thing" and write the things that scare us the most. I think for now, at least, that is why I write.