Eliza Henry-Jones wrote In the Quiet when she was twenty-two. She signed a three book deal with HarperCollins Australia for In the Quiet and two other yet to be written books when she was twenty-four.
When I got the news, I cried so much that I hyperventilated on the phone to my mum and she thought there’d been some sort of horrific accident. Writing was (and still is) my favourite thing to do in the world, but I never really thought I’d have a career in it and particularly not in my twenties. My goal was to continue writing A LOT and – fingers and toes crossed – hopefully get a small run printed within the next ten years.
“Writing was (and still is) my favourite thing to do in the world, but I never really thought I’d have a career in it and particularly not in my twenties.”
The most jarring thing for me in between finishing my first (questionable) manuscript at fourteen and now being on the verge of publishing my second book thirteen years later, has been the strange transition of something extremely personal becoming very public.
As a teenager, I didn’t even like my mother to know I was writing. If she came anywhere near the computer while I was trudging along with my first story, I’d snap off the monitor on the big, fat computer and glare at her until she went away. In this way, writing occupied the most private corner of my personal life – it was my dreaming space; a place for wondering and deconstructing. For understanding.
When I won my first award for a short story at the age of fourteen, it was something I’d written for class. It didn’t feel personal, in the way my other stories did, typed out with two fingers on our hefty, shared computer. Yet, I still didn’t really tell people that I wrote. It felt like something furtive. As though something done mostly for love was somehow less worthy than things undertaken for any other reason.
“Writing occupied the most private corner of my personal life – it was my dreaming space; a place for wondering and deconstructing.”
I’ve had a few jobs – the year I finished my first story was also the year I got my first job at the local grocery story. In between I’ve worked at a music store, a bookstore, a horse-riding stable and in the drug and alcohol sector. I’ve always been good at delineating my professional and personal lives. Until I became a writer. It’s the strangest thing – to have these fluid, moving characters in your head. Their world is one of silence. I don’t speak about my characters until my manuscript is written. And then they’re suddenly solid – their stories etched into the pages of a book. They belong to other people; they are no longer just yours. Their stories are suddenly fixed and real; no more plucking them from one plot and into another one; no more giving them different families or different crises.
In this way, the magic of them becoming more alive and being launched into the public sphere is a sort of strange and unexpected little grief, too.
Back when writing existed only in my mind and our clumpy computer, I wrote for myself. My stories were reflections, mostly, of elements of my life. Of mental illness and family and belonging. And now they’ve become something for other people. While I still write what I love – what fascinates and consumes me – the shape of the world I write in has shifted. It has broadened. For the first time, writing my second book, I was acutely aware of an audience. Of it being something that not only I would read, snapping the monitor off every time I heard my mother’s footsteps. As I wrote my second book, I thought of my editor and publisher; I thought of my agent. I thought of everyone who might pick it up and read it in the months and years to come. It both terrified and steeled me – this sudden shift in how I wrote.
“Back when writing existed only in my mind and our clumpy computer, I wrote for myself.”
In a way, my writing journey is a sort of reflection of how I’ve grown up. Maybe of how we all grow up. Of shifting away from the narrow, egocentric focus of the teenage years – preoccupied with the colours and motion of some cryptic inner world – to becoming more aware of the outside world; engaging with it; considering it. Which is something that I hope carries on and on as I continue on my way to being a proper grown-up (if that’s even a thing??).
Eliza Henry-Jones was born in Melbourne in 1990. Not only was she a Young Writer-in-Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in 2012, she was also a recipient of a Varuna residential fellowship for 2015. With qualifications in English, psychology and grief, loss and trauma counselling, she has also completed her honours in creative writing – exploring bushfire trauma – and works in community services. She lives in the Dandenong Ranges with her husband and too many animals.
Posted on June 19, 2017 by Andrea Johnson