Saturday, June 04, 2011

I write, therefore...

My friend, the novelist Fiona Campbell, invited me over to Liverpool in the week to speak to the creative writing group she's running. They were half way through a ten week course, and she'd asked me along to talk about getting published, and in particular, how social media can be useful for writers. Its easy to forget that although many writers have taken to the web like a duck to water, its not always an obvious fit. Everyone was on email, but few had read many blogs, or thought about using the many literary resources of the web. Our open system can sometimes still seem like a closed shop.

Its always nice to talk to people who are just starting out on their writing journey, if only because it also brings back echoes of your own experience. But a couple of the questions were particularly acute. "When did you know you were a writer?" asked one, and "how do you keep going, with a day job?" The first question made me stop for a second. "Very early on," I said. I'd always written, but looking back I probably felt I was serious about it whilst I was university. I remember writing a story that I was particular proud of, the subject was serious, and so was the execution, and I liked it enough to painstakingly write out a good copy of it, which I gave a friend to read. It made me think about what "validates" you as a writer. It's not as simple as "I write, therefore I am a writer." There have been several stages of validation. Yes, the first time I had a poem published, yes, when my unpublished novel was shortlisted for the Lichfield Prize, yes, when I got on the MA at Manchester, and yes, when my Salt book came out. But actually, those external validations are far less important than the internal ones.

And this led me on to the second question - keeping going, when I've got a busy day job. For me, its always been the work, and the validation is the validation you get from a piece of work well achieved, or completed. I look back on old work and don't regret that it wasn't better; rather I'm often amazed by the amount of energy that went into it. I might know more about what I'm doing now, and things might seem "easier" in some ways, but in reality, it was always hard, and I was always willing to put the work in to finish the work. The sparseness of my published CV, makes me keener than ever that the work that is published is stuff I'm proud of. And, though keeping going when you have a demanding job is quite hard, I've always worked, I've always written, so it doesn't seem unusual. In the list of enemies of promise, it's not the worst.


That demanding job has been driving out everything else this last week, so I only vaguely noticed the furore about V.S. Naipaul's views on women writers. He's the one "great" writer who has always puzzled me. I can hardly remember, and certainly didn't much enjoy, the one book I read by him, "A House for Mr. Biswas", and all I really know about him is his apparently disagreeable personality. Is he really worth the fuss? Saying that Jane Austen has a "sentimental sense of the world" is such a misreading of that arch social satirist that its almost worth a blog post of its own.


This week ahead has even more cultural delights: Social Media Cafe Manchester on Tuesday; The Other Room on Wednesday; new artists responding to Anthony Burgess on Thursday; a new exhibition by Hilary Jack, an artist we published in Lamport Court, also on Thursday and a lecture/book reading by Judy Chicago on that brilliant artist Frida Kahlo on Friday.

1 comment:

Fount of all Porridge said...

Isn't it bizarre that Connolly wrote his book about failing to become a successful author aged just 35? As if he'd given up already.

"Truth is a river that is always splitting up into arms that reunite. Islanded between the arms, the inhabitants argue for a lifetime as to which is the main river."