Monday, December 06, 2010

Out there some where...

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?


Alyosha said...

Whether or not you used it explicitly, I hope that you didn't stray too far from the gist of your prepared argument. It's altogether so sensible, that any straying could only weaken it. I assume that your team won the debate! If the other guys had been arguing that career success is "strongly influenced by chance," it might have been a contest... but "entirely up to chance?" To believe that, you'd have to believe that all of existence is nothing but meaningless chance: a possible belief, I suppose, but a rather dismal one, and one that I doubt anyone truly holds, even if they claim to.
But enough of that. I want to ask a question that I'd been holding back on for fear of the answer being a spoiler for Book #3. What was the source of the terrible, focused threwd bent on destroying Wormstool? I realize that the sacking of Winstermill was because of the dastardly making of gudgeons at that site. But what happened at Wormstool? I took a guess that maybe the region was being used as a "harvesting" source via Squarmis, but I'm not certain, and thought there could be some larger, mysterious, inter-monster-politics at play.

Darter Brown said...

I most heartily agree with your comments in general, particularly the last two summing up paragraphs.

How much fulfilling everyone's lives would be with the true understanding of those words if taught at a young age.

A few years ago, "by chance" I came across the words of Joseph Campbell, where he was discussing his ideas about following ones bliss. Powerful words they were, a great philosophy for how to find fulfilment in life and take advantage of the opportunities offered to us. I have aimed to follow my bliss as best I can ever since. Highly recommended.

Damien said...

I've said it before - and I'll say it again again (to you and others), you are an inspiration to the wannabe-writer Dave!
Thank you again for the story of your path to here.
May your story continue to grow and provide further inspiration to those wanting to be a 'writer'.

James T said...

Hey Dave,
I try hard in life, and as you know - share your world view that a loving God exists and there is purpose and meaning to all of our lives.
However I would also say that my career resembles a game of 'Snakes & Ladders'!!! ;-)

Nobody said...

I noticed that your life somewhat resembles rossamünd's. He prepared for so long to be a vinegaroon but instead became a lamplighter.

Darter Brown said...

And so the Lamplighter becomes the Factotum on the path to his true nature of as yet untold future of mystery and wonder that will last for many years.

BrandenRose said...

On the topic of a certain little poll off to the actual perfect answer would be a volume accounting for the ends of the various characters we didn't get to find out the ends of, a book about Rossamund in which we do learn the fate of principal players, or even a new series in the same time period where little mentions are thrown into the story or explicarium of those same tie-ups...anything HC as long as there is some proper closure would be perfectly to my liking...of course, that's just me

Darter Brown said...

Ok, I did vote for the 4th book about Rossamund...but there were some mighty fine options to choose from.

Having noted my preference, I would like to add, that I'd be happy to put my faith in D. M. Cornish to come up with something special from the H-C world.

As his creative flow has produced such fine results already, I'd have him keep with those creative instincts and not be too led by the expecting audience.

Considering the date, an analogy with Christmas comes to mind: You may want many things, but often the greatest joy is discovery of the unknown surprise.


Unknown said...

That's a lovely little anecdote woven into a cogent argument. I guess I agree with Seneca (and you) that life is neither random nor fated, but an admixture of both.