Below is the prepared speech I readied as a member of the Negative for a debate recently, arguing - for the positive - that career success was entirely up to chance. In the end I delivered my part off the cuff and did not use this speech at all. Therefore, I thought I would share it with someone so as to put the work to some kind of use...
I appear before you in the role of writer, the creator of the Monster-Blood Tattoo series, three books – or roughly 350,000 words – published in 18 countries and 13 languages, with hopes and plans to write further stories in a similar vein and a of long career ahead.
Yet I trained as an illustrator – not a writer – at the now vanished Underdale campus of the UniSA.
How on earth did I get here?
By sheer fluke it seems: for after a somewhat successful 9 years in Sydney as an illustrator, when of a sudden, I quit my job, where I lived, upped sticks and with a Great Plan burning in my soul went on an adventure across the seas, New York, London, Paris. Only The Great Plan failed. I found myself crashed landed, broke and broken hearted back here in my old town, Adelaide, without a job and my old bedroom as my only bunk. Gathering myself up from the dust I put folio under arm and went out to rebuild my illustration career. With help from a fellow illustrator friend, I managed to get my work seen by Dyan Blacklock, the publisher of Omnibus Books, and they were impressed enough to give me first a book cover then a picture book.
Now, I need to tell you that ever since my uni days – and after discovering the works of the great Mervyn Peake – I had been filling notebook upon notebook with ideas about a pretend world and just how it worked. So it was that in one of many long conversations with Dyan as we worked together on various illustration projects, she happened quite accidentally upon one of these notebooks (# 23 to be precise). Puzzled at the scratchings and scrawlings it contained, she asked me what it was, and I told her: notes for an entire made up world. She asked me if I written any stories, and somewhat embarrassedly – to me it was very private stuff – I told her, “Not really, some starts but nothing much…”
“Who are some of the characters in this world?” she persisted.
Still feeling awkward, I listed off a couple, finally saying, “And there’s Rossamünd; he’s a boy with a girl’s name…”
To which she promptly ordered, “I want you to put him down in this pretend world and tell us what happens to him.”
And so – a thousand words at a time – I did just that, until, satisfied I could actually write too, Dyan offered me a contract for a 3 book deal.
So here surely we see that by these collection of flukes I was in the right place at the right time and got the right result. Call it chance, fate, destiny – I am myself convinced it is God’s work in my life – whatever you name it, without this great “chance” I would not be here talking as I am.
And so here I am! I have turned coat and seem to be arguing the case of our colleagues opposite for them, yet wait! Hold up! Let us consider a moment. Let us go a little deeper. What looks like blind do-dah happenstance – a lucky break, “ooh, isn’t he lucky…” – is in fact a long string of consequences born of preparation.
If it was not for a certain assignment in the second year of my illustration course, I would have never discovered a certain author who by their inspiration set me off the long and now habitual practice of writing in notebooks, without which – as I have elaborated – I would have had nothing for my publisher to discover. More so, without the preparation of my illustration degree and the preparation of 9 years as practicing illustrator in Sydney-town I would not even have the opportunity to be in that right place, for it was as an experienced illustrator that I gained close access to the Publisher of Omnibus Books. And without all that mass of back material, the writing of the Monster-Blood Tattoo books would have been very hard, indeed may not have even happened.
So here we are, I am no blackguard after all: though my preparations might not have been directly for writing as a career they were preparations none-the-less, and the “lucky break” now is shown to not be quite so “lucky”.
The Roman philosopher Seneca is said to have said that luck – or chance – is when opportunity meets preparation, and I – who once thought himself the least preparatory (indeed I collected my thoughts for this debate in the very last minute) – turned out to be very well prepared indeed for the opportunity presented to me 7 years ago in the publishers office at Omnibus Books, and so for my career.
You may not end up where you intend, but you will get wherever you go on the back of or the lack of your preparations; for fate or destiny or chance will avail you little if you are not prepared for the opportunities it offers.
And surely, in the sum of it all – whatever our “job” might happen to be, our best career will always be to live as a half-decent person and this is something I hope we would not want to leave to chance.
So, this might have been my required response, but I could help but wonder afterwards: is life all about chance or preparation?