My latest theory is that it was because I was the youngest child. Being the centre of attention, so cute and precocious, I somehow long had the idea that I would be famous. It’s odd to admit that I fantasized at age six both of being a famous singer and a politician who could change the world.
Fantasies of being a writer developed somewhat later. Every few years, a teacher would single me out to praise a story or an essay. Bad poems, started at sixteen, laid down an autobiographical pathway.
When my first short story was published when I was twenty-two – mostly autobiographical – I really got the idea that I had something to say. This started a long spiralling pattern where I saved scraps of my personal life – letters, notes, paper detritus, in case I ever needed to write about myself.
I’d envisioned one book about living in Brussels, London and Australia. I considered structuring it around major events like Diana’s death or the 2000 Olympics, or even around past boyfriends. Edmund White, who’s written many autobiographical novels as well as two autobiographies, was my model, though I’d read many other similar books to emulate.
However, my books, all of which were based at least partly on autobiography, discouraged me from focusing on a novel. Sales were poor, reviews mixed. Some friends read them, others didn’t. My younger writer persona asked, “if I can’t get friends to read my books, then who else is going to?” Of course, I’m proud of my books and writing – and count many blessings to come out of them – but when I thought of that autobiographical novel, it was the negativity that won out.
I won’t rule it out completely, but these days, I’m not so interested in my life history so don’t expect others to be either. Plus much of my life is already out in the public realm, and usually I’ve negative reaction to writers who retell their life story over and over (Alice Munro would be an exception). I predict that something different will call me, whether it’s fiction about other people, or made-up people, or non-fiction.
Meanwhile, I’ve thrown out most of my letters and notes this Christmas. The idea that I would be famous enough that they would mean something is an old one, eccentric and irrelevant, though I’m amazed how I held onto it for so long. If one day I do one write more autobiography, it will have to be from memory, or failing that, like everyone else, I’ll make it up.