I taught myself to read when I was four years old. This is neither an exaggeration nor a joke. I was one of those kids who wanted one out of three books (very short ones, but still) read every single evening over and over and over again. Eventually, my grandparents and mom had enough and told me “you memorised all those books by now”. They were correct. I was smart enough to notice there was a connection between the written words and the ones my mom said out loud. I became a minor sensation in the neighbourhood, but I had no interest in fame and fortune. I just wanted to read, and once I was done with my three kids’ books I found out that there were hundreds of books in our house.

I started plundering through the adult library without anybody really noticing – how would a 4-year-old manage to read science-fiction or blood-dripping thrillers? In the beginning, the answer was “slowly”. When I got to school and we had to learn each letter separately, then read sentences along the lines of “Anna has a cat” I couldn’t figure out what all that was about. I decided that probably we had to memorise the texts, because otherwise what was the point? Once I memorised the two lines that were our homework, I went back to my Kir Bulychov books.

I remember being seven or eight, reading a book that had a sex scene of some sort in it, and being bewildered as to why someone would want to do ewww-y things like this – or even write about them. Hello? SENTIENT ROBOTS! Stop the stupid thing and tell me more about the murderous robots! Nobody noticed I went through my stepfather’s entire collection of thrillers, horrors, crime stories before turning 10. But then what books were suitable for my age back in the 1980s? Dumb ones, I decided, then went back to Stephen King.

Around the age of 13, I discovered the local library had THOUSANDS of books available. It was free, and you could borrow six books per person, or per library card. I got three cards – for my mom, my brother, and myself. That gave us a total of 18 books. Every month I would borrow 15 books for myself, three for my mom, and, er, my brother liked football. I didn’t go by genre, I went alphabetically section per section without paying much attention to the genre. I ate those books. Once I discovered Julio Cortazár’s Hopscotch I went to the librarian and asked innocently what would happen if someone, theoretically, of course, lost a book. The librarian somehow guessed that someone would be me and told me the person would immediately lose their access to the library.

What kind of hateful monster! (The book was, of course, out of print.)

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I’m writing about depression, because they say “write what you know”. But this advice probably applies to most of us who suffer from various sorts of chronic or recurring illness.

A while ago, I saw a recommendation for a book. I will not quote the title or the author for obvious reasons. The gist of the advice provided was “I know it’s difficult, but you just need to work harder and everything will be hunky dory” coupled with “…and if you don’t work hard enough, then it’s your own fault, enjoy your depression”. (Oh, and “buy my books”.) I managed to get to page 11, therefore I am not qualified to give the full masterpiece a 1-star review. On page 11 the author took someone’s suicide note and applied his wisdom to it, noting – I am paraphrasing, don’t google that – that perhaps if the dead author in question had access to useful resources, such as that book, everything might have been fine. The quotes that appear on previous pages can be summed up with “oh, I get depressed, but that’s awesome because it gives me so much insight into myself and improves my creativity, I am so grateful for depression!”.

This is not depression. It’s called navel-gazing. For a person suffering from actual depression this book is actively dangerous.

 

Depression is an illness that often kills.

Again, there’s no need to quote names of people who were famous, successful, appeared perfectly happy, had money, family, whatever else you could possibly dream of, then died of depression. Their loved ones – and people who have never experienced depression – called them cowards for committing suicide. They didn’t understand that it wasn’t “committing suicide” any more than dying of cancer is “committing suicide”. Death is the final result of the untreated depression and is often brought forward by the sort of good advice provided in the book I mentioned above.

So…what is a creative person supposed to do when they’re depressed?

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As I might have mentioned once or twice, I am (hopefully) getting close to finishing my first novel, Storytellers, historical suspense with fantasy elements set in Iceland between 1885-1920. Here’s an honest confession about my delusions…

 

Drafts

Having read approximately 15823098 articles on writing, I was under the impression that a book is written in three drafts. The first is for the writer. The second is for beta-readers. The third is when everything gets fixed, becomes perfect, and I get my first Pulitzer Prize.

Things didn’t turn out that way.

On January 1, 2017, I started working on the first draft of the story I’ve been carrying in my head ever since I dreamt it years earlier. I vomited rather than wrote that first draft. It took me two weeks to produce roughly a hundred thousand words. At this point, I didn’t know yet where the book would be set, so I went for generic “village” and “ocean” terms. But of course, I was already starting to get obsessed with Iceland. When I read Independent People and Wasteland With WordsI realised it was the perfect setting. In fact, it seemed as if Gods created Iceland with the sole purpose of helping me write the novel.

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