I am starting to get both nervous and excited about airing my thoughts and ideas to an eager classroom of shiny, happy, galvanised (and fee paying) peeps at the York Writing Festival on 13-15th September. I've written down my notes, some shamelessly egotistical stuff about how I started writing, and some fun exercises. But I need a pretend audience.
And who better to practice on than a guy I met at a gathering the other day. Overhearing someone talking about my book, and realising I was someone who had moved from talking about writing to being published, he leaned conspiratorially towards me and asked, 'Primula, can I ask, how did you get into writing? How can I get into it?'
Somehow there was something in his eyes, his shiny, happy yet blank eyes, the expectant, already slightly knowing face, that made me suspect that he might be one of those people who, once they'd politely let me rant on for a while, would interrupt to tell me either a) that they had a story in them but never had time to read, let alone write it, or b) would I mind looking at this 900,000 word tome on the spiritual life of the bumble bee/imaginary planet they'd been writing for the last 10 years. A bit like a doctor at a party being asked to diagnose some symptoms?
Well, I had a good glass or two of Pimms inside me, all the time in the world, so I leaned confidently towards him and I started talking. Not wanting to bore him, I skimmed over the exercise books full of heroes and heroines littering my bedroom when I was a kid, the solitary walks dreaming of becoming a princess, the teenage poetry competitions (one won), the years at uni studying literature which killed any creativity, later the adult adventures, the return to writing, the endless rejection slips, the late nights of single motherhood spent writing out, later typing out, my fantasies, the drawers full of half chewed manuscripts, finally the fateful lunch hour at work spent bashing out one last desperate submission for a magazine I had just bought. The one last short story, in fact, and the first that got accepted.
After my own potted history I wanted to know about his. Did he have the fire in his belly, the itch, to write if not all his life, then certainly now? Did he find himself watching and listening to everything and everyone around him, then writing down scenarios, conversations, news clips, abstract ideas on the back of envelopes, menus, napkins, keeping notebooks by the bath, by the bed, in the car? The eyes started to look a little startled. I had already heard that he was about to take a job abroad, an exciting prospect for anyone but which seemed to leave him curiously apathetic (surely indifference to life, travel, adventure has to be a killer for any writer?), so I said why not keep a diary, right from the moment you arrive at Heathrow until you disembark at New York/Cairo/Sydney airport, everything you see, hear smell, taste, talk to?
Maybe I'd had too much Pimms, had ranted more than I meant to, but sure enough the eyes were glazing over. Have you written anything, I asked? No. Do you keep a diary? No. Do you have any particularly genre you would like to write? Not really. Historical fiction maybe. What do you like reading, because that's a good place to start? Bring Up The Bodies? Georgette Heyer? No. Kingsley. Alice in Wonderland. Tales of a River Bank. Right.(Primula floundering a little here.) A tough one, you might think, until he revealed that he was a teacher, and the job he was going to take was in Egypt, where I also lived, as a young teacher, for 2 years. Oh! Have you learned any Arabic? No. Will you? No. No need.
So whether or not he wanted my advice, I gave it to him anyway. Keep that diary. Think about a genre totally different from any other (says the erotica writer) that might make people sit up and take note. Children's fiction, perhaps. Young adult. Science fiction. Historical. Looping your various interests and expertise together.
Another Pimms, and I'd have written the damn thing for him. Because there was no fire in that man's belly. None ignited by anything I'd said. That blank look in his eyes never, really, went away. If anything, it faded, slowly, into defeat and disinterest.
Hey ho. Probably a good thing he won't be in my classroom in York. And one less competitor in the writing market, eh?
Before I go, here's a link to the picture of my writing space, and a playlist of the music that inspires me: