April is the cruellest month said TS Eliot, and it’s arguably one of the most famous lines of modern poetry.
Not for me, Tom, April has been the coolest month – it’s made me more optimistic about my fiction writing than I’ve felt for several years.
Two great things happened.
First, I was selected for Room 204 by Writing West Midlands, which is the region’s literature development agency: it’s a year-long programme to support talented, emerging writers in the region to develop their work and their career opportunities.
They get a lot of entries each year, and I got rejected in early 2015, just a handful of months after moving back to the Midlands (I grew up in Coventry), but I applied again. For 2016/17 I made the grade, and it feels like a breakthrough.
So far I’ve had one group meeting, a one-to-one session already, joined a closed Facebook Group of Room 204 writers past and present, and already I’ve picked up leads, made contacts and opened my eyes to more possibilities than in the last handful of years combined.
Surrounding yourself with inspiring people and the right creative environment: it’s a basic requirement for anyone serious about arts such as writing, but it’s hard to achieve.
Life gets in the way, in all its fabulous, demanding, draining, energising, demoralising, invigorating glory. That is, work, family, hobbies and passions: all enriching things.
Having written for magazines for 15 years, it’s been hugely fulfilling to earn a living from my pen. But it falls short of the immeasurable satisfaction I’d get from having my fiction traditionally published.
I can’t guess at the thrill I’d get from seeing my name on the spine of a novel in a bookshop, or from knowing readers gave up their spare time to turn my pages, to read on late into the night, knowing they’ll leave themselves tired for work the next day, but deciding it’s worth it.
I’ve wanted to be a fiction writer for as long as I can remember. At 42, some might argue I’m already into the autumn of my life as a writer, but I like to think I’m just a later starter. The desire has never gone away, it never will.
The second great thing: I tried my hand at live storytelling, and it was a rush.
It follows the runaway success of the Moth Club in the US, which is beginning to gain a foothold in the UK too. I went along to the Mee Club one evening, loved it and thought I’d give it a go.
The theme for the next event was ‘Small things’ and my pitch was accepted, I was offered a slot at the event in May.
I do some public speaking in my current day job, but this was different – the brief is something personal, meaningful, lasting no more than 7 minutes, and no notes allowed.
No pressure then.
I was second up on the night, after a lovely tale from one of the professional storytellers. I didn’t expect the bright spotlights glaring in my eyes, and the microphone was a bit too low and I was hunched over it and didn’t know how to adjust it.
My heart was beating all over my body, and I felt breathless as though I was hyperventilating, but I got through the opening:
‘I’m going to tell you about five small things. On the face of it these things are insignificant. They mean nothing to anyone else in the world, but for me they’ve grown solid and big and unforgettable over the decades, because taken together they make up a potted history of my romantic life.’
And beyond that, I grew more confident. I completed the story without any major shortcomings or hiccups, and it was a rush. The audience of 50 or so were warm and supportive and laughed when I hoped they would.
I fluffed a few lines, raced through others, recognise I could benefit from some presentation and delivery coaching, but I did it and I was happy and relieved and thrilled. Now I feel like I want more and better.
Room 204 runs for a year from April to April, and I feel like I’m on a clock and am very excited.