It takes courage to pursue a dream, such as to sail around the world, become a doctor or write a book. Martinique Stilwell’s book Thinking up a Hurricane is, in essence, about the realisation of these dreams.
The book weaves a story, from a child’s perspective, of her parent’s dream to circumnavigate the world. Her narrative tells of her anguish of being separated from her friends, grandparents and favourite doll in her home town; of the initial joy and adventure of sailing; and of the being schooled for a while on a remote island.
Stilwell’s story is also a frank account of the hardships at sea and the eventual disillusionment and fear that she would never gain a formal schooling qualification, like some of the other ‘yachtie‘ children. She makes a brave decision to return to her land based home to finish her schooling and to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.
Despite tones of parental neglect akin to The Glass Castle, Stilwell imparts a genuine gratitude that her parents did dream aloud, and that despite hardships, she knows that she had a unique and amazingly adventurous childhood. A childhood that taught her the power of dreams.
Stilwell now practices as a doctor in Cape Town. I asked her some questions about her pursuit of another dream of hers: to become a writer.
How and why did you become a writer?
I always wrote as a child and kept diaries and I’m an obsessive oral story teller, but I put off writing for many years. I think there are lots of writers out there who are so good, that to add my voice to the chorus wasn’t necessary.
What has been your greatest writing achievement?
Writing my first book, Thinking up a Hurricane.
What were the challenges when you were writing this book?
It sounds ridiculous but writing a book is very hard, and it’s a good thing I didn’t know what the process would entail before I started, or I probably would never have written that first sentence. I loved working with my editor.
How long did the book take to write?
Has the success of the book changed your life at all?
The average successful book in South Africa makes about R30 000, so it has definitely not changed my life from a financial aspect. I think the main way that it changed my life is that I wanted to do this for several years and now I can say I’ve done it.
Had you always planned to write about your childhood in a book?
Yes, because I had a very unusual childhood, that had never been written about before.
How did you remember all the things you wrote about in this book?
I’ve got a photographic memory and as I wrote and my mind travelled back into the past, I remembered more and more. I also used the ship’s log for dates and weather and daily mileages, and my mother’s letters.
Now I see that you you write for the Mail & Guardian – how do you decide what to write about ? Where do you get your ideas ?
Sometimes the editors ask me to write about something and other times I just find a topic interesting and then I approach the editors about it, and if they like it, I go ahead. I’ve really learned a lot of interesting stuff researching articles and interviewing people for the paper.
How easy is it to make a living as a writer? Are you thinking of giving up your day job?
I’m nowhere near giving up my day job. I think it’s very difficult making a living as a writer and I’m not sure how anybody does it.
What advice would you give to aspirant writers just starting out?
Read, read, read and read. And then write, write and write. Getting accepted into a masters program for creative writing is also very useful.
What tips would you give a writer about getting published?
Do it for the love of it, and don’t give up too soon.
What do you consider to be the most important writing tip you ever received?
Nicholas Dawes editor of the Mail and Guardian told me that the more I wrote, the better I would become at it.
Thinking up a Hurricane is available on Amazon and Kobo ebooks.
About the Author:
She has had numerous articles published in the SA Mountain Magazine, the Mountain Club of South Africa’s annual journals and http://www.climbing.co.za/