Caroline Moir will be discussing her debut novel Brockenspectre at Wanstead Library this month. Here, the author, teacher, stage manager and mother reflects on her journey into writing
I was born in the Sudan and had a peripatetic childhood – West Indies, Italy, Argentina, Uruguay, and lastly, Syria. When I wasn’t in those countries, my father was.
What really got me writing was the feeling I had that, so far away from us, my father needed entertaining. My first effort was a poem along the lines of ‘Roses are red…’ I wrote letters describing, in particular, the doings of my impetuous brother and our free-ranging dog. Being sent to boarding school, I became eloquent about disgusting food and walking in crocodiles. Above all, I complained I was bored. There were no books to read, which worried my father a lot.
So, I was sent to another school that had a library full of Edwardian books suitable for girls, like me, who would become secretaries and get married. I often wonder how I managed to end up as me, a feminist from the age of 16 and later a university graduate, even gaining a PhD.
My parents didn’t possess the classics. However, they did enjoy novels set abroad. Because of my upbringing, I was entranced by the settings and hooked by the storytelling. And I wrote. I wrote to my family and my friends, and they wrote back. I still have all their letters.
Both as a teacher and with a family, I didn’t write as much. Then I started again. Then I more or less stopped because I returned to work. Twenty years later, I left teaching to write full time. Do I regret not really writing in those years? Yes and no. I might have been published earlier, but bringing up children, being a stage manager for a dynamic youth theatre, and teaching take a lot of creativity.
And I read a lot. A child on my hip, the book in my left hand, I stirred soup with my right. My seven-year-old was forced to wave her arms in front of me to get me to lift my eyes from the page. And I learnt a lot. About writing plays. About writing novels. About writing with a sense of place.
A nomadic child tends to be made an observer – I attended 10 schools – and, in my experience, continues to have itchy feet. I have taught in Newfoundland and Spain, lived in the States and visited my in-laws in India. All have wormed their way into my writing, but I think it is to the Sudan I owe my sense of place. My first memory is of being on a trek in the bush, sitting under a thorn tree eating cold roast guinea fowl my father had shot the day before, and spooning up cold baked beans as the accompaniment. The space was immense. The place made me happy.
I was lucky to have had the time to read. And write. And travel. And get published.
Caroline will be talking about writing and getting published at Wanstead Library on 11 May from 2pm to 3pm (free; booking required). Visit wnstd.com/moir