by Maxine Linnell
How many people do you meet who have always wanted to write a book? I seem to meet them all the time. And I was one of them until three years ago. I wrote my first poem at four, about a candle. My first book was for children, completed when I was about twenty. I sent it off to a publisher, who wrote back fairly quickly rejecting it, but inviting me to write another longer book for older children. If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have run to my desk to do exactly that – it was an opening for the publishing I dreamed about. Instead I allowed it to convince me that I was no good as a writer, had nothing to say, and should give up the whole project.
The fantasies of writing led me to university to read English. At the time, the syllabus was almost entirely pre-twentieth century literature, and almost entirely written by men. There was no room for students’ own creativity, and my efforts at reviewing for the newspaper and writing for the magazine went unnoticed. I felt squashed under the weight of all these classics, all this marvellous, inimitable literature. Even if I could write well, the world didn’t need more books: there were far too many to read already.
I ended up writing in other ways – essays, lectures, editorials for a magazine I edited for ten years. I supported other people in their wish to be creative, to write that novel, paint that picture. There was success, but not in the area which I’d always known was closest to my heart.
And then, much later, I got ill – not in a life-threatening way, but as I recovered slowly I realised that I mustn’t wait any longer. There was never going to be a magic ‘right time’, and I didn’t want to end up with this big regret. I knew some of the things that made it difficult for me to write – the aloneness, the lack of identifiable goals and structures. So I went about finding some of those structures outside. I enrolled on an MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University. I knew that I was there mainly to be given deadlines, projects and encouragement – and that it would be whatever I made of it.
I put many hours into the work, did extra groups, made writing contacts and friends. The certificate was not important, but two years of having other people take my work more seriously than I did were central. I also joined Leicester Writers’ Club, a group of over forty writers, published and yet-to-be-published, who meet every week to support each other, encourage development through feedback, and celebrate successes.
Within the two years of the course I finished my first book. I sent it out to nineteen agents and publishers, and each time it came back I took a deep breath and sent it out again. The twentieth saw something she liked, and we met up. The first disappointment was that she didn’t think this book would sell at this stage. I could have given up yet again, but I decided to take up her offer – to support me in writing a second book. This time I knew how much the offer was worth. The ideas came easily, the book was easier to write than the first. Vintage – a book about adolescence and identity, covering 1962 and 2010, arrived.
The book went out to publishers, and found an independent publisher – Ross Bradshaw at Five Leaves – who read it overnight and wanted it. Several edits later, I’ve just received the proofs to read. And I also received a commission to retell three novels by Thomas Hardy for children.
So in 2010 there will be four precious books out with my name on the front cover. Do I wish I’d done it earlier? Yes. Am I glad I’ve done it now? A hundred times yes.
Photo credit above: Lil Larkie
Author photo : Rod Duncan