Last week driving back from my sister-in-law’s birthday Chinese dinner, we were talking about how when you have a role-model in your childhood doing a certain job, it imprints on your subconscious and enables you to believe that you can do that too.
So my dad asked how I became a writer then, without that influence. Well, that’s a story! And I’m going to tell it today.
Firstly, maybe like you, I was a very creative child, but as a teenager I didn’t take art at high-school and felt like I had no outlet for my creativity, so I turned it onto my body and started trying to create her.
I had a few best friends who were artists in my later teens, but felt locked out. At uni I took psychology as my major and ended up majoring in English literature as well. One day I chanced upon the midday movie on TV, Henry and June, which is about the writer Anais Nin, famous for her journals, and her relationships with the writer Henry Miller and his wife June.
From then I fell in love with Anais’s way of being and wanted to BE a writer too, to live deeply. I had written in my journal from age eleven (probably got that habit from The Babysitters Club books) and felt like I understood myself when I wrote my thoughts and feelings down.
According to my human design, I have a lot of thoughts in my head, and yes it is so. I hadn’t learnt to communicate or express my feelings (only to cry to my mum) and so writing was a way of gaining clarity and insight.
While at uni, age 21, I took one creative writing unit with Brenda Walker and wrote a short story about travelling in the south of Thailand and in Blois, a small village in the Loire Valley in France. But I still didn’t get the process of writing.
I continued to write in my journal, email about my travel adventures and read Anais Nin. At age twenty-two I’d gone travelling round Europe with three friends and then lived in London for ten months, where I met a cool East Londoner, who I ended up with and who came to Perth once I’d moved back to Australia for the birth of my first nephew.
He’s the one I’ve referred to often when I talk about the break-up that sent my mind into a spin and led me to search for a way to shut it up. Call and response. I found a newspaper ad (it was 2003) for a seminar called Absolute Happiness, which I went to with my mum and my ex.
It didn’t affect them but me, I bought the book and started practising some of the exercises to train my mind into submission and get over the ex. I was meant to be going to India with my parents to visit my nana for a month and then I was going to move to Melbourne when I got back, seeking the creative life.
At the same time, I read a book called Holy Cow and it really opened me up to all the amazing cultural activities I could be doing in India. So, because of this, I started learning Bollywood dancing when I got there and also went to this laughter’s club in Bandra West.
The day we went to the laughter’s club, well I was the youngest by forty years, but they told us to come back the next day as a film crew would be there. The film crew were Australian and they were making a documentary on.. Happiness! Curious as to why such a young person would be at such an event, the sound engineer came to talk to me and that was how I met Satheesh.
Well, when Satheesh saw the photos I’d taken, he was impressed and encouraged me to learn to use an SLR camera. He had one to lend me and so I spent five weeks or so wandering around Andheri East and Bandra West, taking photos and learning about sound to help him out at his studio. Because of him I also got to go on a documentary shoot for the UN in the very east of the country and take the stills.
Because of Satheesh too, I ended up travelling to the north, south, east, west and centre of the country. I felt guilty when my parents went back without me after a month, but could not imagine leaving at that point. Melbourne too was forgotten. The creative life I’d craved I was living.
Satheesh was the first one to really encourage my creativity. He had the experience in the industry to do so, to see it as normal. So it was that I studied to learn about sound and use protools to help him in the studio. One weekend he left me alone when he went away on a shoot to upload old Hindi vinyl onto the computer. I was so bored that a novel started coming out of me!
Stephen King says, in his book On Writing, that he was the most productive as a writer when working in the laundry of a hospital and least productive when working as a teacher. There is just no energy left to do so. I spent the rest of the weekend writing, receiving what was flowing through me, getting it down.
When Satheesh returned I showed it to him and he was deadly serious when he said “You really have to focus on this now.” He’d had a girlfriend who was a screenwriter and said it was amazing for a first draft.
So that’s what I did. I travelled more and learnt to meditate from a Buddhist nun in a two-day silent retreat in McLeod Ganj, where the Dali Llama and the Tibetans live, after going on a recci for a Tibetan film. By this stage Satheesh and I were not getting on so well, but it was very special nevertheless.
After three months in India, I felt it was time to go home. Back in Perth I tried to continue with the writing but was too distracted by my friends and fun. One day I went back to my old school to say hi and they asked me if I wanted to teach the advanced course in the afternoons. That’s how I got back into the teaching again.
Lacy Phillips says that the universe sends us many tests. I think I failed all of mine. Either that or these were just stepping stones on the path to here. If I hadn’t taught the advanced course I wouldn’t have met my husband four years later and moved to Switzerland, which led to writing Wonderlust and getting breast cancer. Or maybe I’d have met someone else and written other books or the same book and had the same dis-ease or something else. Sliding doors.
Anyways, teaching English enabled me to travel. I had started doing hip hop dancing once I moved back from London and one day by chance I came across a hip hop dance school in New York and decided to do that. Writing could wait! Aged twenty-five and still on the ego-trip to be the beautiful woman in the kind of video clips my ex was into, and also loving dance, I moved there and ended up staying six months.
While there, I inherited some money and also found The French Women Don’t Get Fat book when I first got there and was pining after a fuckboy who was not into me (I’d go on to meet many). I distinctly remember that day though, feeling anxious because this one-night stand who’d been so into me when we met at the club, would not pick up the phone to my twenty-fifth call. I wandered the book store in Union Place and came across the book.
Obsessed as I was with my body still at the time, I adored this book and fuelled too by my love of the French language and culture and the desire to become fluent and live there, and tired of the empty promises, loneliness and merry-go-round of New York, I decided to get a working holiday visa in France.
In Montpellier, though I loved the people and place, things didn’t work out work-wise, so after six months I returned home, with French-Algerian boyfriend in tow. So that was an ordeal. The moment he arrived in Perth, I knew I was no longer attracted to him. But I persisted because he was already here. That was a costly lesson. Still, my French really improved and for that I am thankful.
Without the generosity of my parents, he would not have been able to stay. So that was both a blessing and a curse. In any case, finally I broke up with him after a year and he went back to France. My parents, happy to see him go too, paid for the flight.
Aged twenty-eight then, it was time to study either photography or writing. I made my portfolio for the photography course, but sitting on the plastic chair waiting for my interview at the central Tafe, I thought of the fact that I’d be doing the course full-time and decided to do the writing instead so I could teach at the same time and earn money.
So that’s what I did. I went to Murdoch University and did their diploma of writing one afternoon a week. There, under Deborah Roberts, I learned about the process of writing. And loved it! Sometimes it was embarrassing, reading our work to the group, but ultimately such an education. One of our assessments was to keep a creative journal and so I would go around listening to people’s conversation in cafe’s and recording it, for example.
By that point at work, I had done a few advanced courses as the afternoon teacher and was not willing to teach it anymore. But the teacher who was supposed to be taking the course, got a severe and very weird burn at the last moment and so I stepped in as a replacement.
That’s how I met M and ended up, a year later, living in Switzerland. By then I knew I wanted to write a novel and, not working at first, started writing about our relationship. That’s how Wonderlust started. Then I found that I was waiting for us to have a fight to have something to write about, so for the benefit of the relationship, made it fictional instead.
When I started writing it, I had no idea of what the story was, I just had feelings and thoughts to express. A lot of the scenes where Sarah was hooked on reality TV at the beginning of Wonderlust, is me. Or how uncomfortable she felt in the homestay does reflect my feelings of living in the sharehouse with M’s buddies. There are many conversations that we had or I had with people and elaborated on. I miss his creativity too! The funny things he’d say as a non-native speaker, his turn of phrases, the phrasal verbs he’d make up.
I also took from my experience as a teacher of English and the stories of homestay, not consciously, but it was absorbed and seeped out I guess. During the seven years of writing Wonderlust I also read all the classics and my favourite genre at the time, satire. I wanted to write a satirical novel but it was quite hard in the first person. I watched a lot of Sex & The City and Seinfeld at one stage to make it funnier.
Coming back to it five years after I’d finished it, my writing style was much simpler and I enjoyed paring it back and adding in the parts about the refugees in my German class that I’d taken out. I’m very happy with the way it turned out and so, happy to talk about it and promote it.
As a coach I wrote a lot, but my emails, I’ve been told, were more like novels than effective marketing. In any case, it was all for the best. Here I am now.
“On the keyboard I typed fluently. I imagined myself to be a concert pianist, with nimble fingers gliding across the keys. I was playing a beautiful melody in harmony. My life was a beautiful melody.”
Read the sample here: Wonderlust on Amazon.
The paperback & digital are available from here or check in the country-specific sites: www.amazon.com/author/mireilleparker
So that’s it! Should I say sorry it’s so long? I read this week that if you feel guilty about something it’s good as it means you’re living authentically, disappointing people, as opposed to feeling resentful, when you have sacrificed your truth.
Wishing you a magical weekend wild heart..
Lots of love,