When speaking about writing, I find that I get embarrassed; worrying with each word that I’m treading in clichés. So I’ll steal from someone else. One of my favourite directors, Michael Powell, once said, ‘I am the teller of the tale, not the creator of the story.’ I like to think he was talking about the pre-existing wonder of life that he drew into his films. He filmed otherworldly romances and scenes of fantasy, but each time he made them from the basic components of life. Things we all have at our disposal in our memories and experiences.
I write because I feel there’s a tale to be told. I feel an excitement from something, be it an event or a character, that needs to be put down. When I started writing what will be my first novel, I didn’t know when or where it would be set. It just started as an image of a girl sat with her uncle, looking out over a canyon. The story grew from there and other characters joined the fray and then finally, and perhaps unconventionally, it gained a setting and a time.
Working in publishing only made me want to write more. At Faber I was lucky enough to meet authors who I had read and admired hugely; even written my dissertation on. It wasn’t that they raved about writing or how it was the best job in the world. It was the worlds they created. The tales they told. It was equally intimidating and inspiring, which is perhaps why I only began writing when I left.
I started writing properly when I lived in Germany. I was holed up (voluntarily) in a spare room, looking out on the woods. As it approached winter, the never-ending German snow started. Despite sounding like the start of The Shining, it was perfect. I would wake up and return to New Georgetown, where the book takes place. I felt like (and here comes one of those clichés) I was returning to a place I belonged. I loved walking into town to witness what the characters were doing. I occasionally went for a cold run to ward off scurvy and in Babelsberg Park there were long stretches of snowy paths before these strange castle-like buildings perched on the hills. Soon, the story had a woods and an ominous building, and the book had an ending.
When I started writing I would find any excuse to give up. I would blame the computer or having to do the washing or the shopping. A month later, I would struggle to stop. Subject matter swelled my brain. It was true hunger and something that hasn’t left me since. There are days when I don’t fancy it, but writing is the only thing that can get me to the library for two hours after a long day at work.
As much as I wrote about a different part of the world in a different time, a lot of the tale I told came from my own life. When I began writing this book, a decent chunk of what I went through at the time found a home in it. People left my life as well as came into it, or rather I left and came into theirs. It’s a tribute to those people and things said or unsaid; both as potent as one another. At one point in the book, my main character stands atop a hill and asks himself, ‘What now?’ I had asked myself that plenty and still do. I guess without sending him down first, I wouldn’t have been able to follow.
Writing, like everything, comes in good and bad swells, but there’s not a better job in the world. Stories exist everywhere and have been told countless times. I write to tell a tale and hope people enjoy listening to it.
In a film of Michael Powell’s – The Red Shoes (my favourite) – Lermontov asks ballet dancer Victoria Page why she dances. ‘Why do you want to live?’ she responds. Surprised, Lermontov muses, ‘Well I don’t know exactly why, but I must.’ ‘That’s my answer too,’ replies Page. And so it goes with writing.
David Sanger is a children’s book publicist who lives and writes in London. Rights to his debut novel has just been sold to a major UK publisher. Say hi to him on Twitter.