Calling a writer a writer

ImageOn Saturday, I braved the monsoon that descended upon the north coast ALL DAY to take a trip over the misty mountain and into the City of Culture for another of the Verbal Arts Centre’s fantastic free workshops – this time with former BBC journalist and successful author, Felicity McCall.

The two-hour slot was to be based around Belfast’s One City One Book – that is, the novel, ‘All The Beggars Riding’ by Lucy Caldwell – with discussion on the themes within, as well as giving the opportunity to discuss your own material.

I came armed with chapter one of ‘The Draft’ in the hope that I could share a little of it and get some feedback and I certainly wasn’t disappointed!

First things first however, our little group delved into Lucy’s literary novel, which tells stories within stories and is written almost poetically. The themes running through the novel include memoir, reminiscence, family history/secrets and the idea of ‘the honest narrator’. We also discussed the issue of denouement in the novel and how effective a book can be in drawing in an audience when there is no ‘big reveal’ at the end i.e. the reader knows from the very blurb on the cover what exactly this story is about and what has happened.

‘All The Beggars Riding’ is a book of two parts – one told from the point of view (POV) of the narrator (blended in with her attempt at a memoir) – the other from the fictional POV of the narrator’s mother, which the narrator has imagined.

It had, we agreed, the potential to confuse when actually writing the book and we generally agreed that the second half was much easier to relate to, as the first section is a little more disjointed, with the narrator swinging between memoir and present day and constantly berating herself about her writing and remembering abilities.

All in all however, the book is beautifully written and put together and presents an interesting, slightly unconventional way of writing a novel. Indeed, at times, as the narrator attends creative writing classes and Lucy herself teaches such classes in real life, the book can read as a handy guide on how to write well!

Moving on from ‘All The Beggars Riding’, we next looked at the sort of writing we were producing – be it poetry, prose or otherwise – and Felicity quite rightly pointed out the fact that to call yourself a writer was still almost like a taboo in writing circles. Despite the fact that people who play music but who aren’t in an orchestra or have recorded a CD call themselves musicians and just like someone who draws but isn’t published or exhibited anywhere calls themselves an artist, why then do writers who aren’t published shy away from calling themselves a writer, despite the fact they might have copious quantities of writing at home or self-published or scribbled in countless notebooks?

As playwright Damian Gorman told us in our creative writing classes last year – ‘if you write, you’re a writer and everyone here is a writer.’

Felicity very kindly agreed to read aloud some of my first chapter and gave some great feedback afterwards with regards to the writing and marketing it. Most exciting of all, she described it as ‘poetic and lyrical’ and ‘contemporary but timeless’ and said when pitching it, I could call it a ‘magical and charming’ story for 9-12 year-olds. 

Particularly coming from a children’s author, I was delighted to receive any sort of feedback, let alone such positive comments and have taken on board her recommendation to lower the age slightly of my protagonist and to aim the book at the slightly older age group, rather than my previous 7-11 category.

Positive feedback and encouragement can help so much and because of the torrential rain I had even been considering not going along on Saturday! It just goes to show that you really should seize every opportunity and meet as many authors and fellow writers as you can because, so far, every one I’ve met has been incredibly wiling to help and offer advice. Fionnuala from the workshop, who is focusing on writing a memoir (and is in the picture above), was also very encouraging, which was really lovely to hear. It means such a lot for people to say they enjoy your writing.

Following Saturday afternoon’s inspirational session, I was subsequently spurred on to finish the final read-through/corrections of my manuscript over the rest of the weekend and I also tweaked my synopsis, which I’m still refining, along with a pitch letter. What’s more, my former creative writing facilitator from Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart – Damian Gorman – then agreed to read my first chapter and offer feedback as well, so that was emailed off this morning! 

My next step is now to get my synopsis in order, along with the perfect pitch letter and then… hit the agents and publishers (those who accept unsolicited manuscripts anyway) before they all abandon their offices for the summer. It has crept up on me slowly but surely and now…. I have all of a sudden reached the most nail-biting stage of all. 

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