On being the children of writers, growing up to be a writer – MG Sinclair

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By MG Sinclair

Most of us are products of the worlds we are born into. If my parents were computer scientists, I would probably have wanted to become a programmer. If my parents were bankers, I’d probably be … well … rich. Me? My parents were authors. Not only that, my step-parents were also authors, along with my grandmother. Oh – and I was an only child, so no pressure then.♥

You might not think it, but I remember my parents actively discouraging me from literature. Certainly it was made clear to me that it was not a remunerative activity. Yet every one of my parents’ friends seemed keen to discuss either what they had written or were about to write. While finding all this profoundly dull, it was nevertheless clear to me that you hadn’t made it in life if you hadn’t had a book published. Also, that it was clearly a trivial task – as the world, his wife and my profoundly uncool parents seemed to have managed it.

So, in my first week of university, finding myself in an empty room and extremely bored, I decided to give it a go. It’s so long ago that in truth I cannot tell you what set me off on this tremendously stupid idea – nor whether I would have put pen to paper if I knew what I was letting myself in for. Anyway, I then proceeded to write one of the truly worst novels you can ever imagine. My friend claims to still have the manuscript somewhere and threatens to produce it whenever I am being particularly insufferable – which is fairly often.

I was crushed when I realised it was no good. The act of writing sixty thousand cogent words is not an easy one (I admire anyone who has) and hearing you have wasted a thousand or so hours of your life is not a pleasant experience. It happened again to me recently and I assure you was no easier the seventh time than the first.

After another few failures, I decided to ‘learn’ to become a writer. In retrospect, I perhaps should have chosen some form of writing group or at least read some books. Instead I decided on a series of somewhat bonkers exercises. Being of the opinion that a writer needed to be a master of language, and a master of language needed to know the dictionary, I proceeded to read the Collins dictionary cover to cover, identifying words.

My selection probably wouldn’t strike you as remarkable – ‘arbiter, fleapit, flounder’ are a few I can remember – however, I tried to pick things that would both be easily understood but not part of my everyday working vocabulary. I then compiled these into mnemonics and learned them (though they can’t have been that memorable, because I’ve forgotten them now). Also, I wrote two hundred and fifty words about everyday objects to improve my observation (I chose a pencil, an apple and a brick). Bizarrely this is possible. And if you look hard enough at a pencil, you’ll notice each half of the shell is a different colour from where the two pieces of wood have been pressed together – something I did not know and can still fascinate people with today. I have more interesting facts of this kind … or perhaps you would prefer me to move on.

I began analysing tastes and scents. I still have a box of essential oils, which I refer to as my cabinet of smells. Helichrysum is my favour if you happen to be curious. I also took to writing descriptions of people I saw around me, trying to encapsulate them in a few words (though sometimes one was sufficient) as well as reading books on how to write – (I found Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell particularly helpful).

And did it work? I think so. I didn’t see it at the time, but a few more failed books and twenty-six years after my first attempt – it appears I have eighty-odd thousand words heading into print. And how do I feel? Relieved mainly. A little lost as well, if truth be told. As if I’ve been struggling against a door all my life, only for it to open unexpectedly and to suddenly to find myself with no idea where to go. But I won’t complain. I’ve climbed my mountain. From here, it’s downhill all the way.


The only child of two writers, M.G. Sinclair grew up in a world that revolved around literature. Breaking the family tradition, he rebelled and joined the corporate world, where he worked as a copywriter and marketing executive. However, unable to escape the inevitable, he completed his debut, a historical novel inspired by a trip to the Prado in Madrid. His latest novel, The Cardinal’s Man, is out now.

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