I wrote avidly as a teenager and into young adulthood. After school, I trained as an actor in London and, for some years, this career took over my life and writing was put to one side, though never forgotten. It was, ultimately, what I believed I was meant to do.
After a serious accident I left the world of acting and started a business in West Wales. This demanded a great deal of time and energy. Nonetheless, comes the time when you have to ask yourself: when did I think, exactly, that I would write? When will that time come? This poses a second question: if I died tomorrow, would I be happy that I had never got to grips with the writer in me? If the answer to this is an unequivocal negative, then you need to do it, write – now, no more procrastination.
I knew of the MA course in Creative Writing at Trinity St David University, very near to where I live. I decided to enrol. Actors are very often asked if it is really necessary to go to drama school. The answer is no, it is not. No one can teach you to act, just as no one can teach you to write. But what courses in both these disciplines can do – if they are worth their salt – is to provide you with an environment in which to explore and develop your talent, and to hone the disciplines and techniques necessary in order to go forward. I would advise anyone thinking of undertaking such a creative writing course to approach it positively from the outset and get everything out of it that you possibly can. Do everything, attend every lecture. Even if an assignment is not your thing, or you feel it is unlikely to be useful to you, do it anyway. Nothing is wasted. The discipline you acquire in this way will be invaluable. I would go as far as to say that if any course attempts to impose a certain writing style on you, or a prescriptive way of approaching and constructing your work, then you should be wary. It is their job to find ways to encourage and develop your particular talent. Yes, the current market favours certain styles and genres; but if we all cave into that, the culture of literature, in the longer term, is lost. Having said all of this, there are things that all writers need to learn about structuring a piece – be it novel, short story, play or screenplay – and much else besides; but it is the job of any creative writing course to help you to hone, not to tell you how. If there is the requisite talent, much of this will come instinctively.
My dissertation consisted of the first part of what was to become my first novel. Having completed that stage, I went on to finish the book. I used locations that I knew well, elements from my past and of history that interested me, and explored themes which I realised I very much needed to do. I discovered that I had received a distinction for my MA; this gave me an extra fillip. Soon after, through a friend of a friend, I found an agent – nothing short of astonishing. I stayed with this agent for two or three years and, to be fair to him, I believe he tried his best to place my work. Feedback from major publishing houses was diligently sent on to me. It all came back with much the same comment: quality writing, difficult to market. Now, like many writers, I was faced with a choice: did I attempt to write what I perceived the market might want, or did I need (yes, need) to hang on to my integrity and write what I believed I had to say. I chose the latter. Inevitably, the agent and I (with, I believe, some regret on both sides) parted company.
The following few years were both difficult and fruitful. Ideas began to come. Since I believe that the short story is a bewilderingly underrated form of literary art, I wrote a volume of them. I began to see how my novel could form part of a series and began to work to this end. Over the next three of four years I had produced two more novels and had radically revised the original one. Then one of the subsequent novels – if it was not actually re-written – received a major re-working. About this time, a writer friend told me of a publisher who had set up a subsidiary business to assist writers to self-publish. This was not something that I had previously considered. However, it all looked bona fide and seemed to offer a quality product. Moreover, time was ticking by and frustration mounting. I decided to throw caution to the winds and go for it. In a few months, the first in what was by this time a planned quintet of novels was published. I was pleased with the result, but the company itself was already showing the strain of over-extending itself. There was little or no quality control at the top, and the very diligent staff (who, thankfully, had overseen the production of my book) were finding it difficult to continue.
Then came a stroke of luck. The individual who had been largely responsible for bringing my book into physical form left the company to start his own business. He invited me, should I wish to publish further material, to contact him. We had got along extremely well, and there was little need for soul-searching. After the impending Christmas period, I got in touch and so began a rewarding and productive relationship which continues to bear fruit.
In due course, a new edition of my first novel was released under the auspices of Wordcatcher Publishing. Shortly afterwards, the second book in the quintet of novels was released, as well as my volume of short stories. At the time of writing, the third book in the quintet is due for publication in a few months’ time, and I am working on the fourth. I have made the transition to traditionally-published author, which is what I had always wanted.
My path into the writing world has been strewn with obstacles, disappointments and rejection (isn’t everyone’s?) and it has not been conventional: though, these days, I am not sure that any form of publishing is as conventional as it once was. It has been said for some time now that it is the small, independent publishing houses which carry the torch for individual creativity and ‘difference’ in the literary world; from my own experience, I would say this is true. I am extremely grateful to David Norrington of Wordcatcher Publishing, whose own creativity is impressive. It was he, for instance, who designed the covers for all my books, with which I am thrilled. He appears, moreover, to be a well of energy and fresh ideas which I feel very fortunate to be able to share in and benefit from. Long may it continue.
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