Last week I had the pleasure of supporting an old writing friend of mine at the book-launch of her first novel. It was particularly satisfying because many years ago I was part of a small group of writers – four of us – in which she, Kath Morgan, first began work on her novel The Bycatch Principle. Part dystopian novel, part thriller this book has been through many alterations and rewrites to reach its present very readable state.
Kath’s talk to those who had gathered for the event particularly referred to the supportiveness of our group. And how important that support is for writers in general. It’s lonely work being a writer. I know, I’ve written all my life but made it my sole job thirty years ago.
In those early years I didn’t have any support. As a single mum with children at school, writing was done during school hours; it was virtually impossible at any other time, with the demands and needs [welcome and completely natural of course] of growing young adults. Late evenings were another writing/ or research time but school holidays were hard. At that time the writing of my drama resources was my only source of income, in tandem with the running of youth theatres and the delivering of school plays at the end of the summer term to schools who would hire me in for a two or three week period with that end in mind. More frantic writing: I was supposed to involve every school leaver in some capacity, so lots of extra scenes had to be written and slotted into musicals or plays that would allow such interference. Sometimes I managed to write a whole play with a huge number of characters just for that purpose.
Then when the written resources started to take off, I began to travel the country delivering workshops [taking resource books with me for further sales.] By this time the children were old enough to fend for themselves. I still gave myself the task of writing at least two more each year. There was no longer time for the youth theatres and related activities. Life got even busier. Writing was more and more squeezed and often confined to ridiculous times of the night.
What was noticeably lacking at this time was support from other writers. Feedback from schools came sometimes and were always supportive when they came, but mostly there was none. When they came, with lovely comments attached, I would often weep. That was how important it was to feel that someone out there actually liked what I was doing and was encouraging me to continue. Mostly, however, it felt as though I was writing in and for a vacuum.
When I moved to Cornwall that changed. The first thing I did was to find writing groups. There were only two in a feasible area back then. One was entirely useless and peopled by a number of very self-congratulatory people who had been meeting together for some years but appeared to have no interest in being published. The other was a busy group in Falmouth where I met Kath Morgan and a few others who have remained friends. After a couple of years we formed our own little splinter group. All four of us were writing novels. I was working on a fantasy novel and the others’ projects were as varied as the people themselves, but all were totally committed and worked hard to bring a new episode or chapter every time we met, which was once a fortnight for a whole day – for four or five years. Even when one member moved to Somerset, we would still, when it was his turn to host, travel all that way to have our meeting.
It was important to us all, fun and, by that time, no holds were barred: we all knew and trusted each other so much we could pick out faults or sillinesses in each others’ work without giving offence. There was many a good laugh, particularly over flowery metaphors or overblown descriptions. Crucially it was supportive in a very real sense. Without it and the need to write the next section for the following meeting I wonder how many of us would have persisted. With no support or feedback many first time writers throw in the towel and never finish. My own mother was one of these. Heart-breakingly, when I was clearing out her desk after her removal to a home with Alzheimer’s, I found the start of several novels, none of which, except for one children’s story, had got further than the third chapter. I suspect that, with no support, that is common.
So this is the message, and thank you Kath for high-lighting it yourself. Writers need other writers or at least a friend or family member who encourages, reads, offers advice and – crucially – gives space and time to allow a writer to blossom.