As a writer, one of the questions I hate being asked the most is ‘when did you first start writing?’ I hate it, because my answer makes me sound like a bit of a try-hard – I always say, ‘I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember.’
It’s true though – before I could even read or write, I would spend ages just scribbling in little wavy lines on pieces of paper, imitating the way I saw words printed in the books my parents read to me. When I went to kindergarten, my favourite activity was when adult helpers would listen to us tell stories and transcribe them for us.
And once I finally learnt to write myself, I would fill notebooks with short stories, re-imagined fairytales, and once wrote a ‘novel’ (which was actually just a normal exercise book with every page filled) about my childhood pet dogs, Benjie and Smudge. It was like a more wholesome version of Hairy McLairy.
This doesn’t make me that different from other kids who love stories and capturing their imagination on a page. But my obsession with writing was also driven by a less positive force – as an Indian-Australian child growing up in a regional town in the early ‘90s, writing was one of the only escapes I had from my reality, which often involved serious racism.
In primary school, I had virtually no friends, and had to put up with racist taunts and jibes everywhere I went. The library was a chief refuge, and my stories were my way of inventing friends when in reality, I had none.
When I was 10, we moved from the country town we lived in to Canberra, and the racism largely dribbled away at school. My new primary school was so multicultural, I was never bullied for my skin colour (though I was still bullied for being a bit of a nerd).
In Canberra, my father took me along to Gorman Arts Centre, where they were hosting the annual ACT Writers’ Festival. I met a woman who had written lots of books for children – I can’t remember her name now, but I remember feeling awestruck that this writer actually had published books. It was empowering to see something that I loved as a source of real credibility and joy for a ‘grown up’, and as a potential future career.
Here I am now, many years later, and writing has continued to be a source of joy, expression, company and contentment throughout my life so far.
When the Sydney Story Factory (SSF) asked me to be an ambassador for their Pen to Paper Challenge this month, I was excited to be able to help. The Pen to Paper Challenge asks writers to set themselves a writing target for the month of September, and get sponsored by their networks to achieve it – raising funds for the SSF’s amazing programs.
SSF’s mission is to ‘change the lives of young people, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, through creative writing and storytelling’. 44% of the young people who have accessed programs through SSF since they launched in 2012 have been from languages backgrounds other than English. When I think about the impact that writing had on me when I was a fairly isolated child, learning English from Playschool and Sesame Street, and unsure of how to connect with my new home, I feel grateful that SSF is providing a similar outlet to other children from culturally diverse backgrounds and connecting them to the broader community through their programs.
I really believe in the work that SSF do, and I’m excited to be able to do my small bit for them by fundraising with the Pen to Paper Challenge. I’ve set myself the goal of writing another 10,000 words of the novel I’m working on by the end of September.
It’s nice to have a purpose other than my own goals to help push me to write – but I do need your help to meet my fundraising target!
You can take the challenge yourself, or donate to my campaign here.