I found writing Gates of Bronze to be incredibly tough at times. I expect it was a bit like wading through treacle, not that I (or anyone else that I know of) has ever had that first-hand experience. But like any challenge, crossing the finish line of publication proved to be hugely rewarding and made the pain worthwhile. It’s just like running a marathon – and I speak with the authority of having done several of those. There certainly are other parallels as both distance running and writing are terribly lonely activities. Donning trainers and sitting down at your desk each require some strength of character when there’s always something else you could be doing on a dark winter’s morning. For both writing and running you need to train and it really helps if you can find yourself a buddy or buddies who can motivate you. Even kick your bum from time to time and tell you it how it is.
I was put through my writing paces when I attended a residential Arvon course in the tranquil surroundings of Ted Hughes’ former home at the Hurst in Shropshire. It might sound idyllic being in a leafy secluded setting where mobiles were banned, enjoying home cooking and red wine around the communal dining table in the company of like-minded, aspiring authors. On one hand it was, on the other it was at times downright scary as I found myself exposing my writing talents (or lack of them) in open forum before discerning fellow students. Some of these were clearly naturals with quite a wealth of experience already under their belts. One had already enjoyed a long career as a journalist with the BBC World Service.
Underneath it all, I had to contend with that insistent voice that haunts all creative people. It tells you that you’re no good, not up to it and that you’d be better off focusing on something more mundane that does lie within your abilities. Know your limitations. Thankfully the course tutor was an author called Rory MacLean (left) who was adept at getting the best out of us, even if he told me bluntly in a scheduled one-to-one session that he “couldn’t hear my voice” in my writing. My work read a bit too much like a charity annual report rather than a personal memoir, and I knew it. I had to let my hair down and start afresh. Which is what I did and two days later on after hearing the re-write of the opening chapter, I was thrilled when he gave me the thumbs-up. I knew that after his initial candour I could be assured that he meant it.
The most frightening experience of all came on the final day when each of us had to read out some of our completed work to the whole class. My task wasn’t made any easier by it being the first chapter of Gates of Bronze – a poignant letter to my deceased wife, Esther, who took her own life in 1999. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop as I stumbled through it, my voice breaking once or twice with emotion. At at the end, I attracted a heartfelt applause and words of compliment that still echo with me.
I am pleased that I kept in touch with Rory and other students after the course. Indeed, this morning he wrote to me:
“Stories can entrance, engage, even possess us. Every one of us has a story to tell — sweeping family history, thrilling travel memoir, cool biography or sparkling flight of the imagination. At the heart of every one of these stories is a writer’s passion. In these strange and challenging times many of us have been gifted a unique opportunity to explore that passion and to tell our Big Story, both for ourselves and in support of the most-worthy ChoraChori charity. So pick up a pen, turn on your laptop and write!”
Yes, and don’t be too hard on yourself. You ARE good enough. Do make the start and you will surprise yourself at where the words come from as you discover an inner creative self that you didn’t know existed.