The literary industry is not always an easy one to work in. Terrible novels can become major blockbusters, while wonderful novels languish on bookshop shelves. One or two authors can win every award in the country, while others are passed over again and again. It’s hard at times to maintain faith in yourself and your work.
At times like this, it can really help for a writer to be reminded that what we do has value. Books can inspire, invigorate, comfort and console.
And so can letters from readers.
This e-mail came at a time when I was overwhelmed by the difficulties of juggling work and family, weighed down by impossible deadlines, and disheartened by the struggle to have my voice being heard in the great clamour of the international publishing scene.
I’d like to share it with you.
Sent: Saturday, 1 September 2012 9:12 AM
Subject: About time I sent this
Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Mitchell, and I was born in Brisbane. I lived much of my young life in a small town called Coppa Bella, and later moved to yet another small town, Keppel Sands. I am now 23 years old, and I have been living in Rockhampton since I was 19. Because of the distance between my home and school life, I found myself very isolated from people my age. I didn't like the people I lived with, and I never had much chance to make a lasting connection with the people I went to school with. I was also in special education for high functioning Autism, so I felt even more isolated from everyone else.
Your books helped me through this time, and I'd like to thank you. I'm sorry for the length of this email, but I'd like to explain how 'The Witches of Eileanan' changed my life.
When I was 14, my teachers were concerned I was dyslectic. I still couldn't read or write. I could draw, and when I'd get frustrated in class, not being able to follow the page with everyone else, I'd draw dragons, monsters, winged heroes, horned demons. Sometimes I got so depressed with being 'stupid' that my drawings became horror stories instead of adventures.
One day, my stepdad came home and dropped a book on my work desk while I was drawing. It was ‘Dragonclaw’.
I didn't understand at the time, but now I see just how perceptive the guy had been, and I feel very silly for only just now realizing it. He put the dots together and realized that my 'learning disability' was just a lack of interest. Books for my age were boring to me, and class subjects were worse. All my teachers stumped and my stepdad the simple train driver had figured it out.
I still had trouble reading, since I hadn't done it much, but I learned pretty quick. A lot of the words escaped me for a few years, especially the Scottish stuff. I tried putting in placeholder words, like King instead of Righ, and plenty of times I put the wrong face to a person, and didn't realize it until years later when I reread them. Hell, Margrit of Arran ended up looking like one of the Yugioh villains, which was on after school at the time. And when Rhiannon's Ride came around, Lord Fettercaine somehow materialized as "John McCain in a sweater vest".
There was one problem though. I could never get The Heart of Stars. I was so excited when I found out there was a trilogy after the Witches of Eileanan, and I'd reread all 6 books every year or so.
Three days later, my stepfather picked me up, drove me to their home, and told me and my brother she had died of a heart attack. I had the book in my hands when I found out, and I didn't open it for a whole year afterwards.
When I finally finished it and tracked down ‘The Shining City’, Lewen being turned against Rhiannon while she awaited trial hit me so hard I put the book away again, and tried 3 more times over the years to finish. Each time, I couldn't. It was too sad, but those books were so close to me, I just couldn't leave them unfinished.
I took a 10 hour train ride to visit family and forced myself to finish the book, and I remember turning the last page and closing it just as the speakers announced my stop. I felt lighter then I had in years as I stepped out of the train. I had gotten on when it was dark and empty outside the station, and had spent the entirety of the trip alone, in an empty cart, without a single sign of life outside the dark window. When I arrived, it was to the very beginnings of a cloudless sunrise, with the train station workers and early passengers just now seeming to rouse. It had felt like a literal journey for me, finishing this book, and leaving that dark and silent train to call a taxi felt a lot like leaving behind all that ickiness that had kept me from reading for so long. I felt like Isabeau returning from The Spine of the World, stronger now for facing myself, but knowing my quest wasn't over.
‘Heart of Stars’ would continue to allude me. It was the last book. I couldn't stop now. It was never in stock, even online, and when it was, it wouldn't ship here. I tried audio book stores online, e-books that I couldn't even use since I had no smart phone, and every garage sale and second hand store I came across would get raided. After a while, I gave up.
Then, one day, I was walking down the street, after stashing my broken bike in some bushes, not caring what happened to it. I was broke, looking at a long walk home, the humidity was dragging me down and it was already starting to rain. It was everything you'd picture from one of those soul crushingly bad days, where absolutely everything that could go wrong did. I went into a random store to wait and see if the rain would stop and to hide in the air conditioning, and ended up talking to the clerk for about 20 minutes.
It was a tiny second hand book store, and the entire time, I never noticed the copy of ‘Heart of Stars’ behind the woman, right in my sights. It was 15 dollars, and I felt my heart about to implode when I saw about 8 bucks worth of silver coins in my wallet. I felt like this was the last cruel joke that today would throw at me to end it's fun. The Coup De Grace. As if I weren't already so low, now fate dangles this just out of my reach, and if my luck held like this, it wouldn't be here when I get paid in a week. I was ready to just sulk off out into the rain, trudge into my place and collapse with the bottle of bourbon I keep in the pantry.
I guess the nice woman who owned the store knew the feeling, because she bagged it for me and asked for 5 dollars.
Kate, you're books introduced me to reading, and they helped make me the person I am today. Finally completing the series after all this time feels like a very deep, very important part of me has also been completed. Thank you so much for helping me grow up and discover myself Kate. You loaned me your Muse until I could make one for myself, and I'll always cherish the memories these wonderful books gave me. You are a wonderful writer, and I'm glad I had your works in my life.
Just a fan from Rockhampton
I had a big lump in my throat reading your message, and my eyes were stinging with tears. Thank you so much! I don’t know if you realise how much a message like yours means to a writer. We spend our time labouring in the dark, hoping to strike a spark, hoping we can kindle some kind of light for others … and your message shows me so clearly that for you, at least, I succeeded. I have printed your message out – I will treasure it always.
I wonder if you would allow me to post your message on my blog? It just seems so special, so beautiful, that I want to share it --- perhaps even boast about it a little. I feel it’s so deeply heartfelt and personal that perhaps you will not wish to share it with others, and, if so, I perfectly understand.
Either way, I just wanted to thank you for taking the time, and for reminding me why I keep struggling on, trying to write the stories I want to write. I hope you’ll go on and read more of my books – and many other books too.
Wishing you all the best, with all my heart