It’s October so it must be Ilkley Literature Festival. Town is full of writers promoting their books and tv presenters promoting the books with their names on the jacket. There’s a real buzz about the place and I lap it up.
This year I must have been feeling particularly brave when the programme plopped onto my door mat as I signed myself up for a couple of masterclasses in Creative Writing. This is a first. For all that I bang on endlessly about my writing ambitions, I almost never share my work. However, there’s no gain without pain they say so I decided to stop being so lily-livered and actually put my money where my mouth was. I filled in the form and posted it. The deed was done.
The morning of the first session dawned and I was sick with nerves. I tried to engender sympathy from my family but no one took a blind bit of notice so I gathered my notebook and pen and set out womanfully into the world of reality and rejection. After all, tapping away at my keyboard in the privacy of my own home allows me to indulge in all manner of pretensions about my own ability. But put me in a room with lots of other ambitious and potentially highly talented writers and there is a real danger that my dreams will evaporate faster than cheap nail varnish remover.
The first tutor was lovely – award winning novelist, emeritus professor on the best writing course in the country and a nice person to boot. She set the class at ease with entertaining tasks. We wrote, we read out our work. The two hours flew by and I came away feeling slightly calmer and deeply inspired.
My second class was a whole different kettle of fish. The tutor, male this time, more confident and assertive than the last. He asked us to explain what we found hard in our writing and from the answers it was clear that this group was either more accomplished or had higher aspirations than the first. As I listened to them speak about tricky plotting devices and publishing difficulties I could feel the little bit of confidence that I had gained ebbing away. I kept my head down and my mouth shut. When I read out my work he praised a particular phrase but even that couldn’t dispel the feeling of despondency that washed over me. All these people, all sharing my dream and shouting about it. What on earth did I think I was doing?
You see that’s the problem. How do you know if you’re any good or not?
When you have children, you realise how useful it might be to have a doctor amongst your closest friends in case of disaster – someone who you can ring and fret at but who knows you well enough not to resent the call. Now I’m thinking an agent as a mate would be fab! I could send them my drafts and get them to tell me the uncompromising truth before I wasted my time sending stuff anywhere else. Sadly, I haven’t picked my friends very carefully in this regard and whilst they are a jolly talented bunch, none of them can help me get published.
All is not entirely lost on the honest critic front however. This weekend I have a whole day cooped up in a lecture theatre with my tutor for the year, herself a published author. Perhaps she can help? I shall try to wow her with my sparkling prose and thus encourage her to suggest honestly whether I’m whistling in the wind.
In the meantime, I shall continue to entertain myself with the twists and turns of my latest story whilst wondering what it would be like to see my name on the table in The Grove Bookshop. Maybe next year?