A few years ago, I’d have called myself an avid reader. That hasn’t changed, not one bit, but if you’d asked me then if I could see myself as a writer in six years’ time, I’d have laughed it off. I’d heard that saying that everyone has a novel in them, and I probably believed it, but I just wouldn’t have believed that mine would have been good enough for anyone to read.
When I was a very little girl (more decades ago than I care to remember), my dad said to me that if I learned to read, every new book I opened could take me to fantastic new worlds, introduce me to strange creatures and wonderful people. I sat with eyes and mouth wide open and believed every word.
He was right, of course. I devoured books, read my way through the children’s section in our local library and began on the adult books by the age of maybe ten. I remember reading Homer’s Odyssey and The Republic of Plato while I was still in primary school, as well as Dickens and the entire Works of Shakespeare. I was definitely a reader, but a writer? Nah, not me.
So what changed?
I read Jan Siegel’s Fern Capel series when I was in my fiftieth year, and fell in love with the idea of telling a magical story. I thought maybe I, too, could write something that might bring joy to others. At around the same time, in early 2014, my father was diagnosed with dementia, something we’d suspected for a while, but to heave it confirmed came as a shock to this Daddy’s girl. I was distraught. Reading wonderful stories was no longer sufficient to carry me away from my sadness, so instead I stole my husband’s iPad and sat down at the kitchen table with a mug of coffee and a blank page open on Pages (which I’d never used before).
Six weeks later, having upset my family by forgetting about meals most evenings, my arthritic fingers had typed out a 130,000 word novel, The Blacksmith’s Apprentice. It really wasn’t very good, at least not then, because I’d forgotten everything I ever knew about punctuation and grammar, plus I had no idea about POV, show-don’t-tell, three-act-structure or anything much else.
But I’d been bitten by the bug, the addiction to story-telling. It was like turning on a tap and being unable to turn it back off again. I haven’t stopped writing ever since, and these days barely a day goes by without me writing some sort of fiction. Micro fiction, flash fiction, short story, novella, novel. I haven’t sat down and added them up, but I expect I’ve written well over a million words since March 2014 and that iPad.
Practice makes perfect, that’s what my dad always told me. But my first employer, a wonderful Mauritian vet called Roger Bouvet, told me that the day I stopped learning something new was the day I should think about retiring.
They were both right. Practice probably does make perfect, eventually, but until then, I’m delighted to learn something new each and every day, honing my craft, improving my writing until people actually seem to enjoy reading it. That came as a pleasant surprise.
So why am I waffling on about this?
Because I’d like others to know that they, too, can become a writer. Not just a writer, which is technically just someone who writes, but a published author. It takes determination, resilience, an extremely thick skin, a willingness to be criticised, and many, many rotten stories on the learning curve, but it is possible.
I truly believe that everyone has a novel in them (or a bunch of short stories, or poetry), and that given the right conditions, they can release their creativity and write for both their own enjoyment and that of their readers. That is why I teach classes in creative writing. it is why I set up this group, Ulster Dedicated Writers, and why I try to encourage and critique fledgling writers whenever I can.
This is just one Writer’s Tale. Other writers will have different tales to tell, but it usually boils down to the same thing in the end: a love of storytelling, and a determination to learn.
So if you think you’d like to have a go at writing fiction, do just that. Have a go. Try it, I dare you.