Writers on Writing: The Art of the Short Story

By Maurice A. Lee | Go to book overview

Mercury Blobs

Sylvia Petter

In my high-school chemistry class in Australia, I was fascinated by mercury. I would hold a blob of it in my hand and watch the substance I had been told was inert develop a life of its own as it tried to escape my cupped palm. Once it did. It fell on the lab floor and smaller and smaller bloblets rolled off in all directions. I was scolded. Mercury was a poison. I was told to leave it alone.

After dreams of becoming a veterinarian faded—delivering calves would be hard to reconcile with an innate wanderlust—I didn't know what to “become” and so studied German and French. Years later I became trilingual and lost any semblance of “mother tongue.” The bloblets were rolling all over the place, and I became a translator. Traduttore. Trattore.

I was living near Geneva in a French-speaking environment. I had studied German and French literature, but my knowledge of English literature was restricted to poetry devoured as an adolescent (to make sense of heartbreak and idealistic stirrings) and pre-exam recitations of Julius Caesar while standing on the kitchen table. Later followed a diet of airport novels, albeit the big themes of Uris and Michener. One day at London's Victoria station I picked up a writing magazine and saw the announcement of a short-story contest. At 42 years of age, I started to write my first piece of fiction. I could not stop. I wanted to find out how it would end. The story did not win a prize, but I was hooked on a sense of magic.

Yet I had to believe in my right to write fiction. Monthly, a writers' group met in Geneva. I joined in and soon claimed my right. Once a month, though, was not enough. There was so much to learn, and then I went online.

Almost 30 years after my chemistry class, the sergeant of an online writing group called Boot Camp (to which I stayed faithful for three whole years)

-202-

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