Why I Started Writing

by Robert Bourke

Pulling back the curtain of pretense and pomp, Robert (aka Bobby) presents the struggle with the written form as he sees it.  I love that about this piece and like Bobby, I also dig King’s work. – ML

Back when I was in school the only thing I seemed to get right was storytelling. One English teacher in particular took a keen interest in my writing but I did not take a keen interest in being taught, and so we went our separate ways in dramatic fashion – I threw a book at him and he got me expelled.  C’est la vie.

I guess I would have to thank Mr. Stephen King for my ventures into story writing. When I was twelve years old I bought a book called The Devil Rides Out, by Denis Wheatley. My mother did not want me to be swayed by his writings and so we compromised on a copy of The Stand by Stephen King. I was hooked.

He opened up a whole new world for me – albeit a world whose population had been diminished by 98%, give or take. It was his characters and characterization which drew me in. It would be my first view and awareness of the intricacies of writing: when you get the reader to care about the character, they will turn every page to make sure you are getting said character out of trouble; although as a writer the trick is to place them in as much trouble as possible. I have learned a few pointers since, but that one was a dawning moment and it shaped my writes in secondary school to which I was encouraged to pursue. I didn’t.

I explored my teens with Cujo, The Shining,  IT and Salem’s Lot, to name a few, but two things struck me outside of my favorite books.

One was The Tommyknockers. I hated it; still do. It was the first time I felt let down by someone I did not know. How could you do this to me, a pimple faced boy of confusion living in a small village on the east coast of Ireland, surely you’ve heard of me, Mr. King?  No? I was disheartened.

The second was his short story, The Long Walk. It was a great read – if you haven’t come across it, please get a copy. I may be over hyping the tale but for me it showed how you can take a simple concept and layer it with characters, and once again worry about them all in such a simple scene as a long walk.

I got the biggest push into writing when I felt Stephen King had wandered off the path, or it could have been me who drifted, perhaps a bit of both. There was a time in my late teens merging with early twenties where I did not read anymore. There was no one to read.  Yes, there were millions of writers out there which I had tread upon, but I wanted horror with feeling. None did it for me the way King did, and I would talk endlessly of this drought at parties or bars or such.

“What about Frank Herbert or Dean R. Koontz?” What about them?  They ain’t King.

One night out clubbing, a girl turned to me and said, “Ya know what, seen as you keep harping on about having no one to read, and, ‘ah gawd but this is droll,’ why don’t you kick it up a gear and write?”

Write? Me? Well I wasn’t bad at the stories in school, but my technical abilities leave a lot to be desired. Still, why not!

So I penned a book length manuscript. Was it a masterpiece? No. Was it up to a standard to send it out? No. But it was mine. It had characters which I cared about, it had plot, it had arc, and it had a wow ending.

If it had all that then why not send it?

Because it ain’t good enough. Simple.

UnderwoodKeyboardI wrote another over two years, just to prove I could write a hundred thousand word piece – easy just type All work and no play 20,000 times. True. And having learned the value of words I would guess I could cut it down to 30,000 and still have the story with a thriftier read.

Then I drifted between writing outlines for characters and stories but not knuckling down to anything concrete – echoes of the same attitude I had as a teenager. I’ll do it my way, won’t be swayed by the constraints of others… yada, yada, yada. Gawd I can still hear my attitude-rich voice ringing now.

There are moments in our lives when we look back and see the most innocuous action leading to a significant event.

In 2006 my wife, and child [a young girl of eight at the time] and my parents, along with my younger brother decided we should go visit my brother in America. He was living in Hendorsonville, North Carolina. So we began to research North Carolina, having only seen America in movies and not fully knowing the layout of the country. What we found were the most amazing landscapes I have ever had the fortune to see – if you have not been to the Smoky Mountains or the Blue Ridge Mountains, I urge you to make the trip sometime. Mountains veiled in a thin blue haze, trees of every color, valleys in shade and lakes in sunshine. Amazing.

And so we planned our trip for late July early August of the following year. We found an amazing log cabin to stay in, with big decking overlooking Maggie Valley, waking every morning to clouds beneath us as we sipped coffee and ate bagels – my first time eating bagels.

However I was not prepared for what I experienced. The beauty of the mountains, its streams and lakes are a part of me now, more than just memories they are part of who I am.

When we returned my mother said to me, “You better write about them mountains, and soon don’t let the feeling leave you.”

I did.

But what to do with it? My practical English was lacking in abundance. I knew nothing of nouns, pro-nouns, adjectives or verbs, nor sentence structure and so on.

I found a website, a writers’ site. Joined but did not participate. Near on six months of revising and editing my piece The River. Until one day I hit send instead of delete and it was up and could be read and commented on.

It snowballed from there. I was told of the amazing book by Strunk and White: The Elements of Style, what an eye-opener. I have sites where I go most days to learn about the seven elements of sentence structure, it does not sit easy with me, but hey if you’re gonna write ya better respect the reader and learn how to execute the craft. I learn – I still am learning; I always will be. I grasp a few things, not all, but more than I had known.

I don’t have a rip-roaring success tale to end with, as in a book deal or an agent. What I do have is a greater understanding of where I want my writing to go. How I want it to evolve. And one day I will go back to that teacher and tell him I am sorry for not having listened to his words earlier, and perhaps throwing the book at him wasn’t the best decision of my life.

*****

About Robert: Robert Bourke lives on the east coast of Ireland with his wife and daughter, and loves it there.
Robert has been published in anthologies of both poetry and fiction. He continues his learning everyday in the knowledge that he is a writer with the desire, and need, to improve. He faces rejection slips with smiles knowing one day he’ll get it right.

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8 thoughts on “Why I Started Writing

  1. Bobby, there is no doubt at all you’re a writer! Well, well written and thought through. It’s a great piece of evolving as a writer. I am hooked for sure. The cabin and mountains even spoke to me. There are also markets for these types of personal essays! Pays very well in the USA! 🙂

  2. Good man, Bobby, I really enjoyed this. Loved the recollection of how your trip to the states influenced your writing. Keep honing away at those rough corners, but don’t forget to send your work out. Nothing like a good rejection to put acceptance into perspective!

  3. Jeasus Bobby, throw in a few murders, a little political intrigue and a cart load of sex and you have your best seller here. Joking aside, this is great. I admire your honesty and you have given a lot of would be writers some hope.

  4. Bobby, straight up: It was a groovy piece that shunned all the pretense and parade that is so often attempted when someone says, “I’m a writer.” It was gut level honest, naked and fabulous. It stuck a chord that was completely true, unbent and intentional.
    I. Loved. It.

  5. Bobby,
    You definitely are a storyteller and it’s been a joy to read your work as you have studied. What we read really impacts how we write. Stephen King’s plots rock, and his characters–whoa. I’ve been immerced in his Dark Tower series and I wept buckets when characters died. His greatest gift, though, is his ability to write so clearly and vividly without confusing the reader.

    You know how much I share your love of the NC mountains, and I do know that a place can make us write well because it touches the soul.

    Nice job and you are finding your voice. It’s a keeper.

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