Genesis of an idea.
I thought I should explain where The MoJo came from. I’ll try for brevity, though my wife has often said I write long, so... 🤷
Though I could start earlier, I’ll go for 10 years old because that’s where my memories coalesce into something somewhat resembling facts. It was the age when I remember noticing stories and words.
I attended Woodlands Park Primary School (ages 5 to 11-ish), a great little school nestled in the bush-clad hills of the Waitakere Ranges. Around the age of 10, I noticed there were some things I definitely enjoyed more than others. I loved story writing time (where far too many ended with that most brilliant of plot devices: the “it was all a dream” conclusion). I started dabbling with poetry a lot then - my teacher had introduced us to Whitman, Coleridge and Blake and tigers burning bright and trippy dreams about Kubla Khan. Perhaps my favourite was reading time on the mat after lunch, where I was first introduced to Raymond E. Feist’s ‘Magician’ (which the teacher never finished) and Roald Dahl’s Henry Sugar (also never finished!).
Around the same time, my mother enthralled me as she read us The Hobbit while I lay curled up in a beanbag in front of the fire. My sisters were not so enthusiastic, but my brother and I loved it. There aren’t many things better than hearing about long journeys and goblins and campfires while in front of your very own fireplace on a winter’s night.
At some point, around the age of 11, I discovered Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I drank it up and, somewhere between the school library and home, I determined I could produce something similar. So began a ten-year obsession with vampires. I spent many hours poring over maps of Transylvania (when I wasn’t trying to follow in Indiana Jones’ footsteps and write Egyptian in my version of the Grail Diary) in the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Atlas - a tome too large for 11-year-old knees that it had to be viewed on the floor or dining table. I became quite familiar with the Carpathian Mountains, as I plotted out my masterpiece. It never occurred to me I was basically just ripping off different versions of Stokers’ novel. No, I beamed with pride at showing my sixteen handwritten plagiarised pages (Sixteen pages! It was the most I had ever written on one story.) to a former teacher. I even did a high school report on ‘Dracula’ and explored the real history of Vlad Dracul. Got an A+ as I recall.
It was also somewhere between 10 and 11 that Stephen King’s ‘It’ entered my world. That began my love affair with the horror/thriller/character/literary master (I gush, I know). When I was 11, I made a 2-foot papier mâché sculpture of Pennywise’s head to accompany my book report. His hair was born from sacrificing my mother’s red woollen sweater. The killer clown’s appetite knew no bounds! I remember one teacher’s raised eyebrow upon discovering the subject of my project. (Now, I’d probably raise my eyebrow too. I won’t allow my 11-year-old near the book, though she’s tried. Prudish? Probably, but seriously, that book has some whacky moments.) Pennywise later adorned the wall above my bed for many years, complete with gathering dust and cobwebs.
At 13, I started a secret society with my best friend. We called it Societas (Latin for ‘The Society’ - having just started studying Latin, I thought it very clever). The lofty purpose of this institution with a grand membership of two? To study and track old myths and fairy tales to their origins. To reveal the truth behind the fiction. We even had a ritual with a candle and all.
It lasted two weeks, when my friend (who was older) realised that this was just a little too nerdy, and not likely to result in attracting girls.
By now I was devouring Wilbur Smith (which resulted in another plagiaristic bout of alarmingly violent prose), Stephen King, Tolkien, and a host of other fantasy authors. For a time Bryce Courtney’s ‘Power of One’ obsessed me, one of my favourite books to this day. I spent hours traipsing through the endless tropical rainforest behind our house, imagining I was being tutored by Doc, a fantasy influenced by my father’s stories of his adventures growing up in Kenya and being chased by Elephants and Rhinos.
Mixed in with all the reading was performing in over twenty productions with a children’s theatre company (pick a fairytale and we probably did it) where I got to play make-believe in front of an audience. I became obsessed with Lloyd-Webber’s Phantom of the Opera and spent hours pouring over information about the Paris Opera House and the mysterious (factual) underground lake. Sunday afternoons were for ‘conducting’ the entire musical with three intermissions (it took 2 cassette tapes with about 40 minutes per side) and moulding my teenage tenor voice to match Michael Crawford’s (until all my hard work disappeared into an adult baritone!). Another bout of plagiarism began when my parents took us to see Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers. From that point on, every script I worked on came out as a reworking of his portrayal of family tragedy. In my later teens and early twenties I worked on writing a few other (only semi-plagiarised) stage shows and even had some of them performed. I discovered Les Miserables relatively late, but had the privilege of playing Javert in a local production (bad guys are always the best to play). I had well and truly fallen in love with theatre and the power to create a moment of transportational-magic with some music, costumes and lights. I dreamed of the day I would have an unlimited budget to create a truly full-immersion theatrical experience, complete with mechanical seating and all. I’m still dreaming.
Then there were the movies. The Neverending Story had me enthralled from about the age of 4, and I think was the major influence for me loving fantasy novels and movies so much. My parents even bought me a 7-inch vinyl record of the theme song and the Ivory Tower theme (to my young ears, the most beautiful piece of music ever written). We would hold my dad’s belt as he ran around the house, four children in tow, as we pretended to be the Luck Dragon, theme song pumping on our National Panasonic record player. Then there was Star Wars, Indiana Jones (as previously mentioned, another source of obsession), Labyrinth, Troll, The Goonies, Smokey and the Bandit, and whatever else played as the Saturday night feature movie on Channel 2 (the other option being, wait for it… Channel 1!). Our collection of video-recorded movies off the TV grew large enough that my mum had to create a catalogue system to find what we wanted (these were often frustrating to watch because someone usually forgot to press record again after the ads had played - to this day there is a whole scene from ‘Grease’ that I’ve never seen). At 12 years old, I remember working on a film at school with my friends. Because I was a little too obsessed with Stephen King, it was always decidedly dark and someone was always dying, usually in the most bloody way possible. The movie was never finished. Interestingly enough, I’ve married into a family of musicians and singers, and two of my wife’s brothers work in the film industry here in New Zealand. Perhaps my dream of seeing one of my visions on-screen is not so far off?
All of this is to say: I loved stories.
I loved reading them. Writing (plagiarising) them. Listening to them. Watching them. Performing them. Sometimes even singing them.
I was well and truly hooked.
(Note: I am not affiliated with any of the links in this article. They are provided as information and, maybe, someone else will discover these things I love, and they will love them too.)