The other day, I applied for a job as a Publishing Assistant at Penguin Books Australia.
I did so through Seek, and during the application process came across two options, ‘Upload Your Cover Letter’ or ‘Write one now’. On an impulse, I decided to do away with whatever standard cover letter I had saved and instead started writing. I’ve heard just about every bit of advice you could imagine on writing cover letters and the correct way to write resumes, and to some extent, I’ve tried to follow the various guidelines out there about putting together a ‘professional’ CV.
It’s a particularly lifeless approach, I’ve found, and while it might be the best way, it’s never worked for me.
This time, I wanted to make it personal. I think the most frustrating aspect of job hunting isn’t being rejected – it’s not even being considered, not even getting the chance to sit in a room with somebody and convey just how much enthusiasm and passion you have for the subject. Instead, you’re lucky to even get a form rejection letter months after you’ve applied and you’ve no way of knowing if your resume or cover letter were even reviewed.
Writing the letter came as somewhat of a shock to my system. I just wasn’t prepared for the rawness of emotion that struck; I don’t think I ever consciously realised just how much it meant to me. I reflected on my childhood, on endless summer days spent running around, out in the sun with the other little hoodlums of my neighbourhood. I grew up in the suburbs of Western Sydney and no one of us was particularly well-off. The majority were just lucky to get-by, some few had parents that were able to occasionally buy them nice things. I thought about where all those guys, where my brother and cousin are now, and I shuddered. Some of them are in prison – the majority have been in and out at least, or are lucky to be holding down a job.
Their lives read like sad blurbs of urban decay, cliched footnotes on a graffitied wall. But what happened to me? How did I end up so far from them all?
I started reading. My step-dad at the time, a gruff no-nonsense Aussie with a checkered history with the law, didn’t look too kindly on our antics, on our lack of studious dedication. One day he challenged me to read a book. ‘I bet you $10 bucks you couldn’t finish this book,’ he said, and 9 year old me scoffed with competitive contempt.
‘Yeah I could,’ I said. The book was ‘King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table’ by Roger Lancelyn Greene. I can’t recall if I ever did get that $10 bucks but I certainly remember spending days lost in that book – it was as though the world suddenly became alive to me, and the world was full of knights and battle, honour and love, wicked queens and witches, betrayal and hope. The world was full of magic and I would never be the same again.
It was a slow change to be sure, but a change nonetheless, as I started to get my mum to take me to the library to borrow books. One and two at a time, as all the while my mum and step-dad, now cottoned on to the idea, continued to challenge me, as well as my siblings, to read. I remember one particular competition wherein we were each given a Stephen King novel and told the first to finish their respective book would win a prize. Now, looking back, I question the decision to give a kid my then-age a Stephen King novel but I’m glad it happened nonetheless. The book was ‘Rose Madder’ and its influence on my writing today is still apparent.
I was in year 4 when the gradual change became a tidal wave. I was introduced to Harry Potter. There was a day that still stands clear in my memory; I was at school, down on the back oval where all the boys were playing morning footy as usual. I was nominally attached to a team but I was more excited to show my friend the book I’d been reading, and I got out The Prisoner of Azkaban to display it (god I think I was even proud of it at the time) just as a ball was thrown at me. I say thrown at, but it was actually to, and book and ball went flying.
I lunged toward my new, shiny book even as my friend shouted in horror, ‘Get the ball, idiot! Forget the book!’
I went out less and less, I read more and more. I began to question, to learn words, to sound them out, to understand them through context more than anything else, and as a consequence, I began to excel in class. I studied in school, I went to university and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Writing & Cultural Studies). I traveled the world. Twice. And I’m just 22 years of age. It’s an understatement to say books changed me; reading transformed me – it provided an escape when I needed it most, it showed me there was another way, and I took it.
The intensity of emotion reading provokes in me, the laughter and tears, is what inspires me to write. I want to inspire in others that same emotion and if I can’t do it through my own words, then I want to do it through others. I want to be involved in this industry, this industry that takes us all to other places, that teaches kids there are knights in shining armour, and kings and queens, and magic too; I want to promote literature, to shape it, to guide it.
It’s a dream. I dream of being apart of that process of storytelling, in one form or another, in one medium or another. I want it so bad it hurts.
I don’t know if it’ll ever happen. At least, on the editing front, I’ve yet to receive so much as an interview.
I’m not sure what it is I’m doing wrong, but one thing’s for sure: I won’t stop trying.