I started writing my first book at age ten. That book is now published. Rafen is the finished product. I literally rewrote the book five times before I got it published. Additionally, I was rejected about forty times by various publishers and literary agents before I secured a publishing contract for the book and its sequels.
When I was growing up, there were only a couple of things that I knew for certain about my life. One of them was that I was going to be an author. I seldom questioned this fact until I came to the age when I began to write large projects. At that time, there were plenty of people who would give me their opinion on what I was doing. Some were positive. But the vast majority of them were either negative or incredulous. I mean, let’s be honest. If you see a ten-year-old writing a book, you’re hardly going to believe that book will be internationally published one day, right?
I believe it now. When I teach creative writing, and I see my students writing enthusiastically, I remind myself to be constructive, but to be kind and respectful. You never know which child might be a published author one day. The power of the published written word is actually huge. I might not have a big audience, but I do have an audience - and anyone, the world over, can access my work and read it. People can find out about what I believe and some of the things I’ve experienced almost without trying. I could say anything about anyone, and someone, somewhere, would find out and perhaps even take my word for it, because I’m an author.
So in short, when a child tells me their dreams - whether they’re literary or not - I always allow the possibility that this thing could really happen. I choose not to doubt immediately. I choose to believe in their capabilities and determination.
At age sixteen, I was published for the first time in a national anthology printed in New Zealand. This was an incredible experience for me, and it took me one step closer to the experience of publishing my own books. At age eighteen, Pontas Literary and Film Agency signed me on as their youngest ever client. They represented me internationally for an agreed period of two years, during which time they found me my publisher.
When I signed the literary agency contract, a few more people began to believe that what I was working on might actually happen. But two years is a long time to wait, and after several rounds of rejections, even I was doubting whether I could get my own book published. One thing kept me holding on - God. I was convinced that if God had placed this desire in me and given me such a wealth of ideas He could get these books published - if He wanted to. I kept praying about it and kept writing.
I might have thought that my books could do some good in the world. But I didn’t realise that they were doing me good first and foremostly. Due to some painful experiences in my childhood, I had a lot of baggage. Writing The Fledgling Account enabled me to process what it means to experience pain and still believe in a good God - what it means to have your innocence shattered and still be a child - and what it means to want to do good but to always feel filthy and ashamed. I hope that The Fledgling Account can help at least one person who went through something like what happened to me. If it does, these books have achieved their purpose.
At age twenty-two, my first four books were published. It was the weirdest experience to hold my first book in my hands. I walked out of a music lesson I had been giving a child one night to discover my client sitting in the waiting room, reading my book. This was actually very ironic, as I had not yet received my copy of Rafen, which had just released. I begged her to let me hold it, which she willingly did. She even photographed me. It was a crazy experience. I think I found it most strange to flick through the pages and see something that had once been a moving, developing Word document rendered official.
After my first four books were published, I experienced a taste of both local and national fame in New Zealand. I was interviewed for a group of newspapers, which culminated in a large article about me appearing on page three of the weekend Herald - New Zealand’s most widely read newspaper. Radio Rhema, a highly influential Christian radio station in NZ, interviewed me too. My books went into New Zealand public and university libraries. I spoke at Hamilton Book Month once and presented at several schools. But when you’re not getting anything else published, things slow down, which they inevitably did. Fame only lasts as long as you’re interesting, and it’s hard to be interesting all the time - not to mention that it’s tiring. Additionally, I was growing older, which meant that I was no longer a prodigy. A twenty-year-old signing a publishing contract is unusual and exciting. A twenty-two year old with four books out is out of the ordinary. But a twenty-five or twenty-six year old with five books published - diverting I suppose, but no longer prodigy level.
I’m not particularly worried by this, although I admit that it once concerned me. You know what it’s like - you succeed big time at one thing and then feel the pressure to top it again and again to keep up the status. I’ve come to terms with why I felt that way though, and the personal shame and low self esteem that sat behind that attitude. I don’t feel any pressure to prove myself in this way anymore.
I write because it’s a core part of who I am. It’s how I understand the world and process it. Additionally - without meaning to flatter myself - I have a very quick, active mind that can swiftly turn to hyper anxiety if I’m not careful. My mind is constantly jumping ahead and working out the consequences of numerous actions and events. It imagines what might happen if “x” occurs and then spirals out of control. In short, it’s a survival machine. And the best way to slow that down is to write it out. Because of the way I’m wired, I’m able to write fast-paced, thrilling stories. That’s a gifting I have. If I don’t write, my gifting turns in on itself and becomes a problem. It’s like a muscle I need to exercise to stay healthy.
Some people don’t understand this and might even think I’m being dramatic. But stop and think about it. We all have idiosyncrasies that could become huge problems if we don’t develop a healthy way of working with them.
So here I am, with another book nearly published and more on the way. And books will probably always be in my future, in some way or other.
I know that even if few people read my work, it’s doing some good in my immediate circles anyway, because it’s making me a healthier, more responsible person. And that does good to those around me.
But I hope that because you’ve taken a moment to read some of my story, you might consider reading more of it in one of my books. Take a trip, have an adventure - it’s on me this time.
Y. K. Willemse
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