It’s been ten years since I started writing again, after a long spell of not writing.
I suppose I stopped writing because I became too busy with life events – marriage, children, moving house, working to pay the bills. I was never properly SAD about not writing but it was wonderful when the desire and ability to write came back.
I’d started writing in 1992, when I was 30 years old and became a mature full-time student studying for a degree in English, and then an MA in Creative Writing. Encouraged by my teachers at Bournemouth University, Chichester University and the University of East Anglia, I started sending my work out for publication and performance, and by the late 1990s I had two BBC Radio 4 credits (for an afternoon play and a short story) a stage play produced in London, a competition win (the Ian St James Awards for a short story) and a few publications in magazines and anthologies.
Looking back, I slightly regret not making more of an effort to employ an agent at that time, to help me in my writing endeavours. An agent might have helped me win another commission, given me a shot at more opportunities. I certainly had the contacts and the invites to parties that might have been useful – in those days, UEA had its advantages, it probably still does. But I seemed to be managing without an agent so I was lazy, as well as shy, about that aspect of my ‘career’.
I had a few near misses: a producer at BBC Radio 4 called me in for a chat about another script – he loved it, he wanted to produce it, he took it to the producers’ meeting…. but ah, no, sorry, not this one. Another producer, another conversation, another no, not this time – do you have anything else? (I didn’t, at the time). A script was shortlisted for a run at a small theatre… but wasn’t selected. A stream of no thank you letters came in for stories I’d submitted to magazines. If I’d had any beginner’s luck, it seemed to have run out.
Meanwhile, I’d graduated, got married to Andrew, moved back into the south London flat I’d rented out when I became a mature student, sold that and bought a house with my new husband, worked in various jobs that I hoped would support me as I tried to write: fundraising assistant, lecturer in Creative Writing, TEFL teacher, research assistant in a hospital. I had a series of miscarriages and then two babies, one of whom was premature. My energy levels weren’t what they used to be.
In 2003, we made the decision to leave south London and move to Wiltshire, where some of my siblings lived, knowing that we could afford a bigger property and not feel as pressured financially. We arrived here just in time for our children to start school and nursery and settle into a new life. Before long, and for the next few years, we were all immersed in the chaotic and joyful routines of school, afterschool clubs and playdates. Writing, and even reading anything other than children’s books, seemed to slip further and further down my list of priorities.
It was while I was working as a Teaching Assistant at a local comprehensive school in Trowbridge, from 2007 to 2010, that I started to read and write again. My job fitted in with my family’s routine and one of my tasks was to help students who were studying for the GCSE English Literature exam. So I read what they were supposed to be reading, talked about the books with them, helped them with their coursework.
In 2008 we went on holiday to Brittany and I took Angel by Elizabeth Taylor with me. A book I’d bought in a charity shop and been carrying around with me without ever reading it. On holiday, I read the entire novel, the first novel I’d finished in years. Thinking about this now makes me tearful, remembering the feeling of returning to something I love after years away. The poem ‘Ironing’ by Vicki Feaver (one of my teachers at Chichester by the way!) seems to express the return to life I experienced when I started writing again. Not that I had felt dead! But, in a way, that creative side of me was pretty dead, when I think about it now.
I also think that it was the reading that came back first. The reading and then the writing. And helping students with the GCSE meant that I was reading poetry, more poetry than I’d ever read, and I began my first attempts at writing my own poems.
I told Andrew that I fancied writing again, giving it a go, focusing on writing and maybe giving up my daytime job. Look, there’s this competition, the Bridport Prize, I said. The money for the first prize is virtually what I make as a Teaching Assistant. I’m going to enter this comp, win first prize, give up my day job. OK, he said.
It took me 18 months to write my first poem, ‘Honeymoon’, I sent it off to Bridport.
I didn’t win but I was a runner-up. I won £50, not £5,000. But Michael Laskey chose my poem, told me it was good. It was enough encouragement for me to keep writing and to keep reading. I did give up the day job but took on another, more part-time, more freelance. I live simply, I don’t earn much money, I’m lucky to have a fantastically supportive husband and children who help me along the way.
And that was ten years ago! One pamphlet, one full collection later, here I am, still gathering notebooks, accumulating books, and, for the first time in ten years, writing fiction again. Who knows where that is going to take me…? If you’re reading this and experiencing a dry spell, please don’t give up hope, please keep reading, please know that change happens. Also, try on different genres – if you’re struggling with fiction, try poetry, try scriptwriting, and vice versa. For me, long form writing became overwhelming once I became deeply preoccupied with children, perhaps if I’d started with poetry I would have never stopped. But everyone’s experience is unique. Whatever your situation, keep going.