I almost exclusively write fantasy and science fiction. I write about things that aren’t real, that couldn’t be real, not in this time or place. I do this because I love to make things up. I’ve been making things up since I was small. As a child, I populated my backyard with fairies, and I populated the school playground with cheese-eating grass-gulls. I didn’t just make things up. I also read about made up stuff. I grew up with Brer Rabbit and Aslan, and I spent my teen years with Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, and Arthur Dent.
My fascination with fantasy was largely a mystery to myself, until I was introduced to the Discworld series. Because it’s in this series that Terry Pratchett explains through one of his most loveable characters, Death, why we need fantasy. I quote:
“Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape … Stars explode, worlds collide, there’s hardly anywhere in the universe where humans can live without being frozen or fried, and yet you believe that a bed is a normal thing … You need to believe in things that aren’t true. How else can they become?”
And that made me realise that many things, many important things, aren’t real. Not real enough to touch. Can you touch justice, mercy, duty? Love? Our economic system is based on the idea that certain pieces of paper, metal, and plastic have value – which is only real because we all agree it is. Not only that, but many real and concrete things – beds, houses, skyscrapers, planes – would not exist if they hadn’t been made up in somebody’s mind first. If I may steal an anecdote from Neil Gaiman, he once was invited to China’s first Party-approved sci-fi convention. When he asked why they were endorsing science fiction after being historically suspicious of the genre, they told him they’d realised that people in China weren’t inventing things, so they’d interviewed people at Google and Apple and Microsoft, and they had discovered that what all those people had in common was that they’d all read science fiction. All the things we’ve built started off as dreams.
So fantasy and science fiction have the power to shape the world. They’ve certainly shaped my world. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve referenced just a few things. All of those things have influenced the way I think and the way I see the world. C.S Lewis, Tamora Pierce, Diana Wynne Jones, N.K. Jemisin – all these authors and more have given me moments of profound insight, as well as hours and hours of laughter and tears.
Finally, the main point – why do I write? I write because I want to do for others what these people have done for me. I don’t know how valuable my insights are, or how many people I can reach, but I want to reach people and I want to pass on my insights. I don’t really care about the money, although in a way I do, because getting money for writing would mean that someone values my work enough to pay for it. I don’t really care about the fame, although in a way I do, because being famous for writing would mean that a lot of people have been touched by my words. But even if I only reach a few people, even if I only bring a single moment of joy, or sadness, or fear, or some emotion other than boredom into their lives? I think that would be enough to give my writing meaning. And that’s why I write.