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Workshop: Blog

How David Bergen found his first story

The Giller Prize-winning author of The Time in Between describes the paradigm shift that led to his first published story.

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It took me ten years to write a proper story. I floundered about trying to shape something, counting on the 'feeling' I had as I wrote, only to discover upon re-reading my work that the feeling had disappeared and what remained was an empty shell. I refused at first to believe that my own experience, my own past, had anything to offer me. I wrote stories set in foreign places to which I had never traveled. My characters were British, they had strange accents, and they were certainly not Mennonite or lowly. They ate dinner, not supper. 

And then, one day, I sat down to write about my older brother, who was a bush pilot and missionary in Irian Jaya. I called him Timothy and the narrator was Thomas and within a few lines the facts disappeared and imagination took over and I was writing a story that came out of my own experience, but it was fiction. The story wrote quickly, I called it 'Where You're From' and I sent it out, as I had numerous other stories over the years. Except this time I got a letter back saying that it would be published. Someone out there had liked the story. I was thirty-one years old. 

The first accepted piece of writing is the most exciting. No other publishing experience matches it. Perhaps jaundice sets in, or expectations are raised, or one starts to think that one is better than is the truth. Whatever the case, what a frisson, what joy, what vanquishing of innocence when a letter comes bouncing back solidly in the mail announcing that the story will be published. It would be a great trick to hang onto that feeling with each subsequent publishing venture. The horizon is large, the dreams are expansive, the world is suddenly credible and for once there is an encounter with an editor who is intelligent, insightful, and prescient."



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