Wanted: one standard imagination, please.

Writing; oh, how I love it. At school, I would very rarely have a firm grip on any of the content of my courses. Economic theory was a complete blur. Ancient history was facts read and then forgotten a millisecond later. Mathematics, quite frankly, was an alien concept to me. Somehow though, I managed to pass every subject with flying colours…miraculous! So, how did I ace my exams and assignments without ever really understanding the content? Written communication. A skill that so many people underestimate, written communication is what I believe to be the key to success in an academic environment. If you can write well, express yourself clearly and communicate in an effective and intelligent manner, you can take a very basic knowledge of a topic and spin it into a report that impresses the pants off whoever happens to read it! Or at least, that’s how I flew through high school.

Writing is my forte, you could say; a skill I have and would love to improve. Reports, essays, theses, persuasive speeches, expository writing, creative non-fiction…I have all of these things under my belt. (Good Lord, I sound like an arrogant, over-confidant teenager, don’t I?) But, there is one genre of English that lies just beyond the reach of my writing prowess: fiction. Perhaps it’s because I’m not really a story teller (though boy, would I love to be!) or perhaps it’s because my imagination has been thrust to the back of my mind (I blame school). Whatever the reason and in spite of my efforts, the ability to produce a quality work of fiction has eluded me. However, in grade eleven (junior year, for all you Americans), I was required to write a short story for my English class. Terror, horror, fear…all of the above. But, in spite of said disposition towards writing fiction, I managed to produce a passable piece of creativity.

Shall I share it with you all? Now, keep in mind that I was a wee sixteen year old at the time that I wrote this.

TIGERLILY

“Where is she?” the hysterical mother screamed into the telephone, unable to control the rising panic any longer. “Damn it, where is my daughter?”

“We’re working on it Ma’am. We’ll let you know as soon as we have any information as to her whereabouts. For now, just remain calm. Don’t panic until we know we have reason to.”

A sound of tormented exasperation involuntarily left her lips as she slammed the phone onto the receiver. The past forty-eight hours had been agony, when was it supposed to get better?

Tigerlily was a seventeen year old girl. She was the only child of Wendy and Peter Allen: an accountant and a solicitor respectively. The family of three, together with their Persian cat, Josephine, lived in a neat white house of wood with a neat front lawn on a neat suburban street in a neat, normal neighbourhood.

On the seventh of April 2003, the autumn sun allowed just enough warmth for the critters in the neat garden to scurry and nibble before hibernation. The song birds had quieted and the vibrant greenery behind the neat white house of wood had softened into a picturesque blend of browns, yellows and reds.

Tigerlily inhaled deeply as the crisp, autumn air ruffled her lacy curtains. Her bedroom did not resemble what one would consider to be a typical seventeen-year-old’s bedroom. As with the rest of the excessively neat household, Tigerlily’s bedroom was in perfect order. Where one would expect to find boy band posters and clothes strewn across the floor, there was a made bed and neat desk with a small stack of textbooks and assortment of carefully arranged pens and pencils.

Tigerlily leaned back from the window and gazed at her bedroom. It sickened her. The creativity and imagination that shaped her every thought felt smothered by the matching furniture and blue bedspread and plain beige walls. Josephine the cat even matched, with her creamy coloured fur nearly camouflaging her with the carpet. Tigerlily had tried once, to decorate her room with posters and photographs and purple lampshades and a rainbow bedspread.

Wendy Allen most certainly had not approved. “Tigerlily, why do you want to spoil our lovely home with awful clutter like that? Don’t you want our friends to think our home is beautiful? We have a beautiful home, Tigerlily, let’s not spoil it.”

The part inside of Tigerlily that was vibrant, adventurous and colourful was carefully locked away by Wendy Allen who would not stand for such frivolous nonsense. At age three, Tigerlily was enrolled in ballet. At age five she started piano lessons, tennis at age ten and deportment at age twelve. By eleven, after being continuously lectured and redirected by her parents, Tigerlily had given up any ideas of being allowed to pursue her own desires and passions while under their guardianship.

The sound of stones clanging against glass turned Tigerlily’s attention back to the window. Peering down over the sill at the ground a storey below, she felt relief well in her chest. The familiar dark-haired boy flashed the crooked smile that still sent her heart into palpitations. Picking up her rucksack and the small bundle of money, her life savings that she had been collecting and saving for as long as she could remember, Tigerlily graced her disgustingly tidy bedroom with one last glance before lifting her leg over the windowsill. Climbing down the lattice was second-nature to her now. Having perfected the art at age fourteen, the now seventeen-year-old Tigerlily swiftly made her way down to her favourite person in the world.

Oliver James opened his arms to Tigerlily and chivalrously relieved her of her rucksack. Her auburn hair shone magnificently in the autumn sunlight. How good it felt to be in the arms of he who was her soul mate. The pair danced across the browning lawn toward the white picket fence that separated the Allen premises from a park of expansive gardens and towering oak trees.

Tigerlily felt euphoria pulse through her veins as she skipped away from her perfect, neat home. Earlier that day, she had feigned illness, to avoid being dragged out for the mother-daughter bonding activities that Tigerlily despised so deeply. Instead, she had stayed home and packed her rucksack with the essentials and waited excitedly for Oliver to arrive. By the time her parents returned home, she would be many kilometres away.

Oliver clutched her hand and pulled her to face him. Her green eyes pierced his blue eyes and together they stood in silence, in awe at what they’d done. They hadn’t stolen a priceless painting or won a million dollars or run a marathon or anything quite that dramatic, but to them, the enormity of simply escaping the prison of parental expectations was overwhelming.

The setting sun cast deep pink and orange hues across the magnificent sky. Tigerlily and Oliver had walked ten kilometres within two and half hours and then taken the train to the airport. Twenty-three kilometres now stood between the liberated adolescents and their former abodes.

As the glowing oranges started to fade into impregnable navies, Wendy Allen impatiently waited for her daughter to answer her mobile phone. “She told me this morning she couldn’t join me for high tea because she wasn’t well. I’m telling you, if she is out partying, I will be extremely cross,” Wendy chided to her husband.

The blanket of darkness gradually peeled away to reveal a crisp blue morning. Wendy Allen, having fallen asleep on the couch before Tigerlily’s return, entered her daughter’s bedroom with bated breath and a cache of reprimands and disappointed looks. After a long, restless night of tossing and turning, the empty bed sent a piercing wave of maternal hysteria over Wendy.

By midday the next day, that wave had become a tsunami of panic and terror hovering above Wendy and Peter Allen. Don’t panic until we have reason to? My missing child isn’t reason enough to panic?

Wendy sat alone at the neat cream-coloured kitchen counter, head in hands, shaking uncontrollably. Her life was so neat, so tidy, so organised. Her home was her temple of perfection, boasting the same excessive neat and tidiness that shaped Wendy’s personality. Yet, in spite of her consistent efforts, she had never been able to neaten and tidy her daughter. Tigerlily Allen had been a free spirit and Wendy’s mere attempts to impose her own organised ideals on her daughter had placed distance between them that far outstretched the kilometres that now literally separated the two.

Since entering her daughter’s empty bedroom the day before, Wendy’s intuition had been pulsing like a metronome beneath the veil of sheer terror and desperate longing for Tigerlily’s return. At that moment, she would have given anything for the phone to have rung with good news. She knew though, with her intuition throbbing incessantly and painfully inside her core, her rigid body shaking as if in a seizure, that she would never get that chance.

Two thousand, five hundred and seventy-two kilometres away from the neat, white house of wood sat an auburn haired-girl and a black-haired boy, hand in hand, gazing up at the stars which littered the sky above this unfamiliar land. This strange land however, felt more like home to this seventeen-year-old girl than the suffocating perfection she had escaped from ever had. For the first time in her life, a sense of complete peace settled over her as she lay anonymously on a patch of grass in an unfamiliar place, not knowing what the next day held.

While writing this, I realised that I love writing for the beauty of language. For the way in which sentences can be strung to evoke fear, nostalgia, excitement or romance. The sheer poeticalness of words. You probably noticed that my short story focused very little on plot and tension but instead spent a great deal of time describing the scenery…and while I know that this makes for a very unexciting tale, it’s the description, the formation of beautiful sentences, the power of alliteration and metaphor that give me my writer’s buzz.

And this is how I came to the conclusion that I would like to write creative non-fiction. What a sublime genre! I don’t have to care about character and plot and tension…I can take facts and topics and exploit my vocabulary to the very best of my creative ability! Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore fiction. Novels of every genre make me dizzy with literary excitement. I lived at Hogwarts throughout my entire childhood. I fought the enemy with Ellie from Tomorrow, When the War Began. I drifted out at sea in a boat with a Bengal tiger and Pi. Yes, I’ve thrown myself head-first into the many magical worlds of fiction and would be blatantly lying if I claimed to enjoy reading non-fiction any more than I love to read stories. But when it comes to writing, my catharsis, nothing can quite compare to the very malleable genre of creative non-fiction.

Words, words, words. What do you love about words? What genres do you love to read and what genres do you love to write? Are you first and foremost a story teller or a writer? Are you an academic or a dreamer? Share your words with me!

Creative Non-Fiction

Creative non-fiction…sounds a little like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? When you think of non-fiction, you usually think of hard, cold facts, executive summaries, scientific analyses, hypotheses, statistics, university assignments and other such forms of writing. Of course, these examples do all belong in the non-fiction aisle but they aren’t its entirety. For years, I thought of professional writing as a two-sided coin: creative fiction and uncreative non-fiction, stories versus essays, arts versus sciences. However, the wide world of writing cannot be separated so definitely into black and white for there are a myriad of writing styles that amalgamate both genres. For example, creative non-fiction.

I am a creative, expressive writer who likes to embellish and describe but when it comes to dialogue and characterisation, integral aspects of fiction, I am completely and totally inept. Character and plot are not my forte and for a long while, I felt lost in my monochrome perception of literary genres. If unable to write fiction, how was I ever to channel my flair and love for creative writing? The answer became clear upon subscribing to the New Yorker magazine and the New York Times daily newspaper. Both of these publications opened my mind to the idea that non-fiction can be colourful, creative and imaginative while still retaining real, fascinating and important content.

The New Yorker, a well respected magazine of the Condé Nast group, exemplifies sublime and creative non-fiction. Articles discussing film, theatre, dining, philosophy, the underbelly of politics, books and the world colour its pages and do so with flair, professionalism and innovative writing. Likewise, the New York Times, while featuring very factual and political articles, also celebrates creative non-fiction with genres devoted to the arts, theatre, travel, dining, fashion and literature. The ‘Movies’ section for example, is less about statistical analysis and direct quotations and more  about opinionated reviews on films, the emotive power of the latest drama and the very subjective world of cinematic evolution. Yes, creative non-fiction is out there and it is a wonderful thing to read.

As an eighteen year old girl, out of high school but yet to attend university, I am understandably at a confusing and uncertain fork in the road of my life. I have very diverse but specific interests; I love the dramatic arts: the theatre, acting, directing, film but I also love words: books, magazines, newspapers, blogs. Since around the beginning of my senior year, I spent hours upon days weighing my options. Should I attend an acting school or go to university? Should I pursue drama or get a degree in writing? Neither path seemed entirely satisfying as both excluded the other, a sacrifice I wasn’t willing to make for either area of interest. But alas, I have found a solution: creative non-fiction. The world of creative, imaginative and colourful journalism opens to the door to writing about film, books and travel (my three greatest loves). You may be thinking, ‘Why on earth didn’t she think of that before?’ But you must understand, that for so many years and throughout all of my research of Australian university courses, creative writing and non-fiction have been kept very separate and due to my lack of plot and character proficiency, I never considered the realm of creative writing as an option in spite of my distaste for the bland world of tasteless non-fiction. Creative non-fiction however, is the best of both worlds.

Tell me, Readers, what your thoughts are on the subject of creative non-fiction. Do you like fiction, scientific pieces of writing, imaginative journalism or a mixture of all that the written word has to offer? Also, if anyone has any ideas or recommendations as to how best one could harness a love of creative non-fiction, do be a honey and share your sweet knowledge!