Monday, 3 March 2014
Myazaki and Me
This blog post was first published at the tremendous YA Yeah Yeah blog - the link to which is here. It is reproduced in full. Enjoy...
My fixation with age started in my twenties. I’m not talking about wrinkles, bags or greying hair here; my obsession was different. I was gloomily fascinated with how old writers were when they got their first novel published. I’d heard somewhere that Donna Tartt had begun The Secret History when she was nineteen, and that great swathes of it were the unedited first draft of a teenage writer. Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she too was nineteen. Brett Easton Ellis, I hear you ask? 21.
There were others, too, and the knowledge of it was eating me from the inside out. Every time a debut novel came out I’d find myself in a bookshop somewhere checking the author’s bio, and working out their age. Twenty four, twenty eight, thirty one – these kind of ages seem to figure highly as I stood in bookshops over the next decade anxiously doing the maths.
Time, I knew, was slipping away.
My problem? I couldn’t find any long-term traction for an idea. I’d spend a year on a doomed piece of misplotted detective fiction, and then my eye would be caught by something new; I’d declare myself on a mission to write kooky travel fiction, strap a thrift-store tent to the back of a bicycle, and be abandoning the whole sorry endeavour before sundown. Everything I read became the missing link. For three years in my early thirties I was mainlining A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and trying to turn myself in to Dave Eggers having decided I was never going to be Iris Murdoch. Then it was Julian Barnes; Martin Amis, Ian MacEwan. I couldn’t ‘be true to myself’ because I had no idea who I was. I couldn’t ‘write what I know’ because all I knew was trying to be other writers.
Then everything changed. I read Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (Reeve? 35, in case you were wondering.) Damn, I thought. I used to love stories like this. Then, after a moment; I still love stories like this. Really love them. The YA bug bit me and I was away – I was off – I had a direction and a drive and a belief in what I was doing.
I was 42 when The Poison Boy came out; very much the back-end of the distribution curve, I reckon. But since that day I’ve gathered around me a gang of noteworthy guys and gals who also came (fashionably!) late to the party. Ian Fleming was 42 as well; Raymond Chandler 51. George Eliot belongs in this crew, as does (ahem) the Marquis de Sade.
For Christmas this year, I got a tremendous little gift - a book of critical essays that told the story of the Japanese animation giant Studio Ghibli and its creative director the magnificent Mr Hayao Miyazaki. I’ve long been a borderline obsessive fan of his. Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo; these are all, I reckon, timeless works of magic. And wouldn’t you know it? When his first feature-length movie was released, he was 38. His second came out when he was 44.
So whatever your age or circumstances – I reckon there’s pretty much no such thing as too late in this game. Here’s to making up for lost time.