My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Anita Hughes, author of Monarch Beach, a new novel about what happens in the aftermath of an affair which shatters a “perfect marriage.” Hughes was born in Sydney, Australia. She graduated from Bard College with a B.A. in English Literature and a minor in Creative Writing, and attended UC Berkeley’s Masters in Creative Writing Program. She has taught Creative Writing at The Branson School in Ross, California, and has lived at The St. Regis Monarch Beach for six years, where she is at work on her next novel, Market Street. To visit her website, click here.
My First Writing Competition
The first time I knew I had to be a writer coincided with the first time I won a writing competition. I was eight years old, and I won a nationwide writing competition sponsored by Australia’s prestigious national newspaper, The Australian.
Needless to say this was quite an event in my life, which to that point had been focused on reading, swimming, playing at the beach, and watching the boats on Sydney Harbor. (When you live in Sydney, your life revolves around water).
I entered the contest and was thrilled when I opened the paper one Sunday morning and found my entry had been published. I was one of the “weekly” winners and I could not have been more proud. I took the paper to school and passed it around my friends. None of us had ever seen our names in the paper before, and I received much praise and offers to share my school mates’ fairy sandwiches (an Australian staple of white bread, butter and colored sprinkles) and Violet Crumbles. (My mother was a health nut so I was always envious of the contents of my friends’ snack bags.)
I posted the clipping on my bulletin board and thought that was the end of it, until a few months later we received a call from the newspaper. I had won first place in my age group in the whole country – out of all those entries published every week they had chosen mine! This was huge. A reporter and photographer came to our house to interview me and take my picture. (It was terrible timing. I had recently gotten an unflattering haircut that made my head look like a coconut). I received a monetary award (which I hastily spent on a pair of coveted pink clogs) and my picture was on the front page with the two other winners in their age groups under the headline: “Australia’s Next Best Writers.”
Not bad for someone who always got A’s except for a C in “neatness and accuracy.” Writing, I suddenly discovered, was not just about having good cursive and staying within the lines. Writing was about how you formed the words in your head. Writing was transferring your thoughts to the page and someone seeing beyond a badly drawn “m” or “z” and hearing your message instead.
From that moment I was hooked. I wrote short stories, poems, and two novels while I was in high school. I studied English and Creative Writing at Bard College, and attended the Master’s Program in Creative Writing at UC Berkeley. I put writing aside for years when I got married and had children, but perhaps that early vote of confidence allowed me to pick up the pen years later, and begin writing Monarch Beach.
I learned a few things from that early triumph: make sure you get a good haircut before you take your author’s photo. Try not to spend your whole advance on shoes. And tell all your friends about your accomplishment: you’ll receive a lifetime supply of sugary snack treats.
Author photo by Sheri Geoffreys