'We are all works in progress'
Published on: 24 July 2013 Author: Steve Cole
Children's author Steve Cole tells us about his journey to becoming a writer - and shares his own superhero-style 'Origin Story'.
It's trickier being a writer than people give you credit for, I reckon.
I guess it always is when you take a hobby and try to build a working life around it. But most writers have to reinvent their job at regular intervals – creating new titles, new series, perhaps for different age groups.
That's exciting! New ventures mean new opportunities – perhaps your next book will be the one that propels you into super-stardom...
But it's also terrifying. What if the next book bombs? What if it's too similar to something else out there – or not similar enough?
Then of course, there's the issue of trying to keep a balance in life. Not only between writing and leisure-time, but between writing and promoting – trying to give yourself presence in an industry when every other author seems to be enjoying greater success, higher word-counts and more free lunches than you'd think was feasible.
That's the time you have to remember what you're in this for.
You have to remember your Origin Story.
Yep, that's an allusion to superhero comics. The Origin Story is of course the tale of how a mundane individual is transformed into an extraordinary being. Such adventures offer a potent bit of escapism, and childhood is all about craving escape.
My own Origin Story is closely bound up with sci-fi, superheroes and anxiety, because all I read as a young child were Doctor Who books, Marvel comics and Snoopy cartoons. Loving them as I did, I tried to emulate them in my own words and pictures.
I was eight before I wrote my first 'original' books – fictitious episode guides to Peter and Anne Adventures – a TV show (in my head) in which I starred as Peter, the intrepid ghost-busting schoolboy with improbable access to dangerous hardware who fought evil with his sister. I chronicled five seasons of their adventures. (A typical example: 'Peter and Anne have to defeat a robot that is 8 feet tall! They fire a bullet at his head and banish him to the Non-Zone')
I went on to attempt Hulk Comics... a slew of poorly-stapled Doctor Who novellas... and in my teens, endless short stories of the macabre that aped the mannered, florid style of writer-host Rod Serling. A 'comedy-thriller' called Death on a Boeing 707 followed, along with crude 'comedy' books, radio scripts and sitcoms. (I still hope that Not Really a Policeman will one day be made. Actually, no I don't.) Most terrifyingly of all, I even attempted romantic fiction (with all the insight and panache you might expect of a spotty sixteen-year-old).
These were years of casual reinvention as all childhoods are, as our tastes change and whims slowly harden into resolve.
Looking back, it's small wonder that my published stuff should be such a hotchpotch of different styles and ages and genres, or that I began creating my own characters and series only after some time spent adapting other people's.
But of course, an Origin Story doesn't stop in childhood any more than we do. We, and our Origin Stories, are all works in progress, and the key moments can only be defined in hindsight. For instance, writing the Walking With Dinosaurs Photo-Journal was just another job, but it gave me the idea for Astrosaurs four years later, which was the origin of my second Origin Story, where I transformed into Full-Time Writer Man.
That's the great thing about this job. We get loads of cracks at New Beginnings.
Remember – Stan Lee the comics genius was almost 40 when he created the Fantastic Four, the first superheroes with troubled private lives in a recognisable 'real world'. They were born from his dissatisfaction with writing the same old stuff, when he was on the verge of quitting comics. But Fate had other plans – the right ideas with the right words and the right art at the right time created a confluence that revolutionised comics and blazed a trail through popular culture. Yay, Stan!
OK, we have to be realistic. We're not superheroes. We can't all be living legends.
But we can hold on to the fearlessness of days past when anything seemed possible. We can keep trying to make sense of what it is we most want to say. And we can pep up our ongoing Origin Stories with some shocks and twists –'cause who knows when Fate'll deem them ready for publication?