How I Began to Write by Rolf Boldrewood (Part 2)

The last station having been sold, there was no chance of repairing hard fortune by pastoral investment. "Finis poloniae." During my temporary sojourn in Sydney, I fell across a friend, to whom, in my palmy days, I had rendered a service. He suggested that I might return to profitable use of facile pen, and some gift of observation. My friend, who had filled various parts in the drama of life, some of them not undistinguished, was now a professional journalist. He offered to introduce me to his chief (the late Mr. Samuel Bennett), proprietor of the "Town and Country Journal," and did so. That gentleman, whom I shall always remember gratefully for his kind and sensible advice, gave me a commission for certain sketches of bush life, a series of which appeared from time to time. Shortly afterwards, I wrote my first tale, "The Fencing of Wanderoona," succeeding which, the "Squatter's Dream" and others, since published in England, appeared in the weekly paper referred to. Thus launched upon the "wide, the fresh, the ever free" ocean of fiction, I continued to make voyages and excursions theron, mostly profitable, as it turned out. Varied colonial experience, the area of which became enlarged when I was appointed a police magistrate and goldfields commissioner in 1871, supplied types and incidents. This position I filled for nearly twenty-five years.

Although I had, particularly in the early days of my goldfields duties, a sufficiency of hard and anxious work, entailing serious responsibility, I never relinquished the habit of daily writing and story weaving. Nor did I, on that account, neglect my duties, I can fearlessly aver. The constant journeying, riding and driving over a wide district, agreed with my open air habitudes. The method of composition which I employed, though regular, was not fatiguing, and suited a somewhat desultory turn of mind. I arranged for a tale, by sending the first two or three chapters to the editor, and mentioning that it would last a twelvemonth, more or less. Then the matter was settled. I had but to post the weekly packet, and my mind was at ease. I was rarely more than one or two chapters ahead of the printer; yet, in twenty years, I was only once late with my instalment, which had to go by sea, from another colony. Every author has his own way of writing, and this was mine. I never but once completed a story before it was published. And on that occasion it was -- sad to say -- declined by the editor. Not in New South Wales, however, and as it has since appeared in England, it did not greatly signify.

In this fashion, "Robbery Under Arms" was written for the "Sydney Mail," after having been refused by other editors. It has been successful; and, though I say it, there are few countries where the English language is spoken, in which it has not been read. I was always satisfied with the honorarium which my stories yielded. It made a distinct addition to my income, all of which, as a pater-familias, was needed. I looked forward, however, to making a hit some day, and with the publication of "Robbery Under Arms" in England, that day arrived. Other books followed, which have had a gratifying measure of acceptance by the English-speaking public of home and abroad.

As a prophet, I have not been "without honor in my own country." My Australian countrymen have supported me nobly, which I take as an especial compliment, and an expression of confidence, to the effect that, as to Australian matters, I knew what I was writing about.

In all my relations with editors, I am free to confess that I have always been treated honorably. I have had few discouragements to complain of, or disappointments, though not without occasional rubs and remonstrances from reviewers for carelessness, to which to a certain extent, I plead guilty. In extenuation, I may state that I have "hardly ever" had the opportunity of correcting my proofs. As to the attainment of literary success, as to which I often receive inquiries, as also how to secure a publisher, I have always given one answer. Try the Australian weekly papers, if you have any gift of expression, until one of them takes you up. After that the path is more easy. Then perserverance and practice will ordinarily discover the path which leads to success.

A natural turn for writing is necessary, perhaps indispensible. Practice does much, but the novelist, like the poet, is chiefly "born, not made." Even in the case of hunters and steeplechasers, the expression "a natural jumper" is common among travellers. A habit of noting, almost unconsciously, manner, bearing, dialect, tricks of expression, among all sorts and conditions of men, provides "situations." Experience, too, of varied scenes and societies is a great aid. Imagination does much to enlarge and embellish the lay figure, to deepen the shades, and heighten the colors of the picture; but it will not do everything. There should be experience of that most ancient conflict between the powers of Good and evil, before the battle of life can be pictorially described. I am proud to note among my Australian brothers and sisters, of a newer generation, many promising, even brilliant performances in prose and verse. They have my sincerest sympathy, and I feel no doubt as to their gaining in the future, a large measure of acknowledged success.

As to my time method, it was tolerably regular. As early as 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning in the summer, and as soon as I could see in winter, I was at my desk, proper or provisional, until the hour arrived for both bath and breakfast. If at a private house, I wrote in my bedroom. I corrected in the afternoon, when my official duties were over. At home or on the road, as I had much travelling to do, I wrote after dinner until bed-time, making up generally five or six hours a day. Many a good evening's work have I done in one of the clean and quiet, if unpretentious roadside inns, common enough in New South Wales. In winter, with a good fire, and the inn parlor, all to myself or with a sensible companion, I could write until bed-time with ease and comfort. My day's ride or drive might be long, cold enough in winter or hot in summer, but I carried paper, pens, ink, and rarely missed the night's work. I never felt too tired to set to after a wholesome, if simple, meal. Fatigue has rarely assailed me, I am thankful to say, and in my twenty-five years of official service, I was never a day absent from duty, on account of illness, with one notable exception, when I was knocked over by fever, which necessitated sick leave. It has been my experience that in early morning the brain is clearer, the hand steadier, and the mental tone more satisfacory than at any other time of the day.

First published in The Town and Country Journal, 1 October 1898
[The first part of this essay was published last week.]
Wikipedia pages are available for: Boldrewood and Robbery Under Arms

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on September 12, 2008 7:34 AM.

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