It’s been a busy week, the end to a very busy summer after the launch of my novel Inshallah, and the weekend was spent at Penfro Book Festival. I was one of three authors speaking on a panel about living in foreign climes, and it was a pleasure, and a challenge, to be interviewed by the panel facilitator and then questioned by the audience. I was also able to dip into some other sessions, with mixed feelings – after hearing one author discuss his book I changed my mind and decided not to buy it!
The whole concept of the literary festival seems to escape me. I thought, at first, that these festivals were for authors to mingle with the public, and to engage in reasoned debate about their books. Certainly, there was some of this going on. I also thought I might find something like a community of writers, and indeed, I did get into interesting conversations, especially with my fellow panellists. But I felt strangely disconnected from the community of authors there, all of whom seemed to know each other or of each other I suppose this is typical of any new author’s experience. This, along with my other recent experiences at launch events, has shown me that writing the book is only part of the journey. The ‘work’ of being an author seems to begin rather than end with publication, and it’s much more than keeping a facebook profile going and contributing to Twitter. It looks like this is another role I have to learn to perform, effectively.
The strange thing is that this is all in addition to ‘Real Life’ where I have to actually earn a living. When the audience heard that Inshallah took seven years to write, there was a collective intake of breath. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get across the necessary additional information, that the book was written as part of a PhD carried out VERY part time, whilst working 3 other jobs and bringing up a child. I worked full time as a lecturer, part time as a tutor for the OU, and as a freelance writer. But the other authors on the panel confirmed what I have found to be true, that being busy actually facilitates writing. Having plenty of spare, empty time to write is, paradoxically, the worst thing for a writer. I always find that I write best when under pressure, and that writing is something that occurs mostly in stolen moments. Faced with ‘free time’ to write I find myself wandering around looking for something else to do, anything else, because too much space seems to leave me intimidated by the whole process of writing. Suddenly, the house is clean, the laundry done, the study is tidied and sorted, and I resort in the end to taking things to the charity shop rather than sit down and spend an entire day writing.
Why should it be that being pushed makes me a more motivated writer? One writer friend said that being in a social world gave her more inspiration, more ideas, more ability to write and characterise. She said that long train journeys were great for developing her understanding of dialogue. Family parties helped her understand relationships.
Maybe this is true, that you need to be IN the world in order to create your own world. Maybe there’s a kind of energy that the writer taps into, a stream of creative consciousness that can only be accessed under certain conditions. And maybe those conditions differ, but maybe some writers share certain conditions in common.
So I dive into a new term of teaching – teaching topics I love. I am now a programme leader, for a new part time course, which is a significant added workload but will be a really interesting new direction for my work. I have research to finish and to write up, students to support, marking to do, mountains of admin . . . it goes on an on. I will participate in and lead meetings, and work also as an Environmental Coordinator for my college, pushing forward the sustainability agenda. I’ll do postgraduate teaching and supervision, evaluations, placement visits and placement audits, and so much more. It’s going to be a busy term. But I know that in the corners, around the edges, in the margins of all this activity, I will also be writing. I’ll be editing, polishing, creating, structuring, shaping and imagining. I can’t wait.
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