When it Began...
I did something frightening today. I clambered up into the attic and recovered a box packed tight with loose pages of writing spanning the best part of 20 years between 1985 and 2005 when I moved into my latest home.
I resisted the temptation to read most of the stuff in there, suffice to say I knew it wouldn't be very good, but I did find the writing exercises I carried out whilst a student at UKC in 1995. It was the second year of my degree and I was studying a module called 'Professional Writing' with Professor Roger Hardy. I'm not even certain it was an English course, though it must have been. I seem to remember Hardy being an ICT Professor. He was a 'big' American (or Canadian, I don't remember) who had devised a course using what was pretty new technology to me at the time. Each week we received an e-mail from him explaining a task and directing us to two other members of the seminar group. Our job was to write a piece of fiction and send it to our respective partners before the deadline. In return, we'd receive work to critique from other members. And so it went on, through twenty weeks or more, writing to deadline, receiving feedback, writing to deadline again. At the end of it all we had to write an extended piece of fiction. All very familiar these days but at the time it was very new and very exciting to an undergraduate who harboured dreams of writing a novel one day (accomplished) and living of their art (nowhere near accomplished).
I remember going to see Roger Hardy in his office shortly before my second year ended. I remember telling him I wanted to become a writer. I'm sure he'd heard it all before. He was very encouraging, in his own offbeat fashion. He sent me on my way with some sage advice. Go to lots of publishing parties was one thing he told me, with a wry grin on his face. That was never going to be the world I inhabited. I was born on a council estate in the most boring town in England (official). The other thing he told me was to keep writing and keep sending stuff in. If I was lucky, I might just crack the resolve of some editor someplace and get myself a break. I seem to remember him saying this with a tone that spoke the wisdom of ages, with a sigh perhaps, with an air of resignation. But I did as he suggested and ten years later, after thousands of hours sat in front of computer screens drafting and re-drafting my writing, after thousands of hours spent obsessing about writing, after thousands of hours desperately seeking a voice and a story and a way in I finally did get a foot in the door. I sent a copy of my novel to a London publisher. They sent a message back. They liked it.
Six months later it was on the shelves in Waterstones and being reviewed in the Broadsheets. For a few brief moments I allowed myself to bask in the wonder of it all. Then I started the process all over again.
Good old Roger. Good old 'Professional Writing'.