For me, reading and writing are flip sides of the same coin.
When I was seven or eight, my parents moved to the South of France to try and save their marriage, which in retrospect seems like a crazy idea, but then: they were crazy. We lived out of suitcases and slept in sleeping bags. Everything smelled of damp. None of us spoke the language. I felt completely alone.
I’d never had time to read in Australia. There were too many people to talk to, too many rooms to destroy, and sitting still was boring when there was a boy to bite. But in France, newly deaf and mute, I sat down and opened a book. It was Emily Rodda’s Finders Keepers, which my grandmother had sent over for us. With the opening sentence another world exploded in my head, a place of lost things and strangeness. I read it in one sitting, my bum going numb on the crumbling paving stones.
The attic of the house we were staying in was full of past lives in storage, mildewed boxes of foxed books that hadn’t been opened in decades. Over the next year I read myself sick and silly, teary and tired. The world was more complex and mysterious than I’d ever imagined. Nothing, I began to realise, was quite as it seemed.
Like all readers, I have memories that aren’t strictly mine. I can still smell the forests of Middle Earth in the late autumn. I can still feel the sweat on my back as I ran up the mountain at the end of Narnia’s Last Battle, to a place that I didn’t know was supposed to be heaven because it was real to me (and the jury was out on heaven – the bible just didn’t read as well as C.S. Lewis). Other memories aren’t so pleasant: the chill of horrors, rapes and murders. Like all readers, I have spoken with the dead and lived lives beyond my own.
Maybe because I was so uncertain of what was real after those first few books, in France I began writing diaries obsessively, to pin reality to the page so it could be examined – its wings pulled off, its intestines poked. The move from observing the world in diaries to experimenting with it in stories happened without my noticing.
Reading opened up my world. And writing became my way of grappling with its fleeting realities – of pinning it down for just long enough to look at it, and trying to change it in the act.
Ruby J Murray is a freelance writer and author of Running Dogs. She can be found at http://www.rubyjmurray.com/