I could always string words together as a child. Stories were as natural as breathing. English class was the easy one with a guaranteed string of A’s – so much so that I became bored with the whole affair in my later teens and determined to study something else. It simply wasn’t hard enough to do an English Lit degree, I thought, with a massive dose of youthful hubris. I wanted a challenge. (Of course at that point I hadn’t figured out just how wonderful, complex and challenging the study of literature could be. Oh, cringe-worthy adolescence.) It didn’t help that my teachers glanced at my grades and invariably said something like, “So, you’re going to study English, aren’t you?” No, no, no. I had to be different. I wasn’t going to be what people told me to be.
I loved art, and acquitted myself at the time relatively well at such things as portraiture and life drawing. This, I thought, flinging a bohemian scarf about my throat, was to be my Vocation. English was a good friend but painting was my True Love. I remember at the age of seventeen leaving for art school, determined to be the next – well, Rembrandt, because why aim low, after all?
That lasted about a year.
That’s alright, I told myself, as I retreated hastily from the London art scene (at the time preoccupied by sawn-through cows and installations involving glasses of water moodily entitled ‘Last Spring.’) I was not interested in ‘art’ because I actually wanted to do ‘film’. By age nineteen, I was set to be the next Wim Wenders, dutifully enrolled in Euro film school and learning how to create arty German-language movies about angels with incredibly long monologues which they deliver while listening to Nick Cave.
That lasted for about three years.
That’s alright, I told myself, as I hastened away from the Gauloise-smoking film buffs. By then – age twenty-two – I thought I’d finally nailed it. I was going to be the next Hayao Miyazaki and create fantastical animated worlds which would blow people’s socks off. This, I thought, was the real deal. This was the lovechild of art and film I had been looking for. Animation was the art of moving paintings, of giving sculpture a story.
Actually, that dream stuck. I loved animation and made a career out of the computer kind. I worked hard and gradually improved my skills. The job turned out to be everything I was looking for: creative, challenging, well-paid. It certainly was demanding – the hours were long and the technical bar increasingly high as the industry developed through the 1990’s. But I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Animation for me was that dapper young fellow in a trendy suit: the one you meet in your twenties, the one you think is The One. (He’s a Capricorn, slightly roguish charm hiding a banker’s soul, likes taking you out to dinner and talking about the famous people he knows. He doesn’t want kids, no, not yet.) He was kind when I gave him all of my attention, and we lived happily together for a long while.
But I am a fickle creature. All through that happy relationship with Animation I was seeing someone else. A weedy, gloomy sort of fellow in a black trench coat – he was far too young for me – he looked a bit like Neil Gaiman – in fact, he was Writing, left by the wayside as an teenager and now back to court me with a vengeance. I snuck out to see Writing when Animation’s back was turned, in the evenings, or between contracts. Something about Not Being Allowed Or Encouraged to Write made the pastime irresistible. I was no longer the A-student. I didn’t have teachers patting me on the back. No one was interested in the stories an animator might tell, and so I told stories, increasingly. I became obsessed with the art in a way I had never been before.
Finally, when Animation had brought me to live in NZ and was busily pointing out the Hollywood stars at those excellent Lord of the Rings parties, I realized I had to break it to him. I was leaving with Writing, I told him. We were going to live in genteel poverty on an island off the coast of Greece and produce a novel together. A whole damn brood of novels. Animation was unimpressed; he told me I’d be back.
Things did not quite work out the way I planned. I did not live on a Greek island. I found I actually had to learn to write: yes, a high school facility for English really wasn’t enough. I learned, wrote something resembling a book, scrapped it, learned some more, and started producing those novels at last. I’m still at it – still hand in hand with my weedy Writing guy, telling stories and as happy as a king. I have no idea how long it will last.
I hope forever.
Mary Victoria is the author of Tymon’s Flight, which is now available throughout Australia and New Zealand. It is the first book in the Chronicles of the Tree, and Book Two, Samiha’s Song, will be out in February. Mary Victoria lives in New Zealand and is currently working on the Chronicles of the Tree trilogy.