About a month ago I said to some lovely bloggers that I’d write a piece on how me and my mum (Sarah Beeson MBE) managed to get a three book deal with HarperCollins; I even said I’d do it in my last blog on maternity leave. But for some reason I just couldn’t sit down and write it (blogger’s block?); maybe it’s because the deadline for the first manuscript is looming and it’s all a bit too close for comfort; or that the balancing act of writing, being at home with a toddler and our growing communications business Wordsby is sometimes more than a little overwhelming – wonderful but overwhelming. Last week I even went to my mum’s to try and get a bit more work done (keeping the guilt in check when you are a mum is such a challenge isn’t it?)
Also where do I start on how I got into writing? Setting up my own theatre company at the age of 16? Writing for the Birmingham Rep’s young writers festival ‘TRANSMISSIONS’ and meeting the young playwright who would become my husband, Takbir Uddin<? Surely they’ve played a part in this writing journey. But it was when I saw a post on Facebook by my creative writing tutor from UEA Paul Magrs last night as I was putting my Little One to bed that made it all fall into place. He was asking whether people thought he should offer to do some freelance critiquing and coaching to aspiring writers now he is a fulltime author. ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ I said and then sent him a mass of emails telling him the difference he made to my life while I was at UEA from 2000-2003 and semi-unsolicited ideas for how he could do it with my Comms hat on.
So, imagined how thrilled I was to see him post this morning on his blog ‘Life on Magrs’ not only that he is doing freelance tutoring and coaching but he’d also quoted me and mentioned the books we’re working on. Not only is Paul one of my favourite authors (if you haven’t read ‘Never the bride’ do – it’s a hoot) but he believed in me as a student at UEA when he ran the MA and undergraduate creative writing courses. He believed in me, saw the talent in my writing and didn’t worry about the technique like other teachers did. Paul told me to be myself and write how I wanted to write and not to conform to some elitist notion of writing that kills creativity and undermines a writer’s confidence and potential to grow.
It was Paul who years later in 2008 introduced me to my now Literary Agent, Piers Blofeld who at the time had just joined Sheil Land Associates after being Paul’s editor at Headline. Paul said, ‘Piers, this is Amy and she’s a novelist, or she should be.’ [Friendly kick up the bum!] It was also Paul who I emailed late one Sunday evening last year to ask whether it would be OK to send the book mum and I had written during my maternity leave to Piers, four years after we had been introduced. It was until last year that I really had something solid to offer, because in-between getting a job, getting a home, getting married and having a baby in the intervening years I hadn’t been writing every day and only had promising but half finished novels until very recently. It was only when I started to write every day that things fell into place. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like I was pretending to be a writer anymore.
Every step along the way it has been Paul who has been my touchstone, the voice of experience who gave me gentle shoves in the right direction. It was Paul who told me he, ‘loved my writing,’ when it was unclear if anybody else ever would. I willwrite up the process I’ve been through to get published (in another blog when I’m feeling more brave if you’d like to hear that story?) but it doesn’t really matter what I did or what anyone else does. It doesn’t matter whether you are published or not, if you feel you are a writer, you are a writer. Knowing who you can go to for help on that journey for me has been just as important as getting signed, because without my Literary Agent Piers Blofeld we wouldn’t be where we are now, and without Paul I would have never met Piers. People say being a writer is a solitary life but once you get going it’s full of people and sometimes you can’t believe anyone is really that interested in you, but I do now think that when you believe in yourself, other people, the right people, will start to believe in you too.
Paul Magrs told me, ‘Only you can write your stories. There’s no one else can make them up, or remember them, or tell them like you can. No one can do it for you. But sometimes life gets in the way and formal education lets you down and experience takes away your confidence to write the way you would like to.
‘I think anyone can be tutored in developing their voice and creating work they can be proud of. The rules aren’t the same for everyone, and much of writing is about learning which rules to break. It’s a huge challenge – trying to write something that other people will want to read. But through constructive criticism and feedback I can help people to get there.’
So, if you dream of being a writer stick to it. Surround yourself with people who believe in you – whether that’s friends, family, tutors, editors or literary agents because only you can write your book – so do it your way. ‘Rah, de, rah, de, rah de, rah…rrroar.’