Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow – as the saying goes.
There’s a lot of truth in that old proverb. I used to write on my own, no interference, no feedback, no ‘critical friend’ to take me aside and give me a few tips. In hope and expectation, I’d send agents the first few chapters of my latest novel – and a few weeks later, my beautifully hand-written self-addressed stamped envelope would come flopping back through the letter box. “…but thank you for thinking of us. We wish you lots of luck in the future.”
I kept on writing, kept on saying I’d give it up, but you can’t, can you? It’s like chocolate.
I joined a writing group in the London Borough of Harrow, and rediscovered the joys of reading my work aloud, introducing a dozen or so fellow-writers to The Price of Silence, still going through one of its many re-writes.
Feedback was generally positive but that wasn’t the point: I was also listening to other people’s writing, hearing their critiques of each other’s work, and learning that there is no right way to write. You just have to get on and do it, and then hope you are read.
Except I still wasn’t really getting anywhere.
Fast forward several years and I find myself in Somerset, still desperate to be read, still desperate for the world to meet Detective Inspector Jeff Lincoln in The Price of Silence. I enrolled on a Creative Writing course run by Alison Clink, half-thinking it was an admission of defeat. I’m a novelist. Do I really need to go on a course?
What a turnaround! Listening once more to other people’s writing, watching their reactions, hearing the points they’d picked up on: it was illuminating and humbling – but in that supportive environment, thanks to Alison, encouraging too.
Through that course, eighteen months ago, I’ve moved on to become a member of the Frome Writers Collective, and part of an even wider network of writers – published and not-yet-published – who work together to support each other.
Four of us were sitting in the back garden of Kath’s cottage in Buckland Dinham last night, coffee and a jug of sangria on the table, moths flitting through the darkness, tawny owlets peep-peeping in the trees not far away. In the course of the evening, we’d shared flash fiction, the beginnings of a steam punk fantasy, a bit of The Shame of Innocence. We talked about family stuff, house-moving, hospitals, picnics.
I wouldn’t have found this amazing network of people if I hadn’t been humble enough to admit I needed support. Writing alone can be fun but it can be lonely too. You may not be naturally gregarious – writers tend to be spectators rather than players, inveterate eavesdroppers rather than great talkers.
But sometimes you have to take a risk and see where it takes you.
That unexpected opportunity may only look like an acorn, but from tiny acorns… Well, you know the rest.