Why I Write: Ali Land

Recently I’ve been in a period of reflection. Having recently completed my first novel, a process which lit every synapse and nerve in my body, I began to wonder why I had waited so long to write. What I’ve discovered is that the journey began years ago.

The written word has always played a significant role in my life. Growing up in a military family, letter-writing to parents who were often in challenging situations on the other side of the world was the norm. Sunday mornings at boarding school were spent scribbling news (heavily censored of course) onto notelets, posted far and wide around the world. I learnt early on the warmth and joy that sending and receiving letters can bring. A friend in an envelope, to be read and re-read. The extra special ones, safely stored under my pillow.

English was my favourite subject at school; I lived for the reading lists. My books are my most treasured possessions, so much so that I can’t count the times I’ve boxed them up and shipped them to the other side of the world, just so they’d be there waiting for me in my new city when I landed. The only prize I ever won at school was an English one, and my class teacher banned me from entering his end of term anagram competitions.

The signs were there all along, just not the courage. So when I finally felt brave enough and sat down to write my first novel, it happened very quickly, in four months in fact. The words tumbled and somersaulted onto the page. I found, to my great joy, the hours spent day-dreaming and staring out of class-room windows had been useful after all. It turns out I had been writing in my head for years.

What I have learnt so far

I write because I love. Deeply.

I write because I care. Greatly.

I write to understand, and to make sense of the world around me.

I write to feel. Going deep, deeper than I ever imagined into my main character’s skin simultaneously broke and re-made my heart. I cried often during the process of writing this novel; the journey continually evoked compassion and hope in me.

I also write to escape order and the ordinary. A crazy chaos occurs during my writing. Post-it notes litter my walls, an ever-changing game of literary chess. My flat was messier, my laundry pile bigger. And I loved every minute of it. I ran with it.

The final reason I write is: to understand myself.

Kafka once said “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”

Believe me when I say, I’ve been there, close to the edge. Hanging on by fingernails close. By putting words on paper, I’ve been given a wonderful me-shaped key which is slowly unlocking the internal turmoil and conundrums which have, at various points in my life, disturbed me. The white noise, the voices, the images flashing through my mind. No, not madness, not insanity. Just a writer, not writing.

There is no monster in me anymore. He has been replaced by a giant, my very own BFG, who holds my hand and tells me, yes, this is the path for you. Writing has changed the way I see the world – it more vibrates than exists. Inspiration lurks everywhere, characters to kidnap lurk everywhere. I know there will be times ahead when walls will be hit, self-doubt will creep in. I won’t always get it right, but I know now that I will always write. Why wouldn’t I? Nothing is more beautiful than late nights spent at my desk with foggy eyes, watching something resembling a story emerge. A land. A place where the voices are heard. Are valid. And on that page, through my foggy eyes, those words are mine. Nobody can judge or criticise them.

That is until you hand them over to your agent or editor, but that’s another story for another day!


Ali Land

alilandAli Land completed our six month Writing A Novel course in June 2014. Her debut novel Good Me, Bad Me will be published by Penguin in August 2016, and has since sold in a further twelve territories.

Say hi to her on Twitter.

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