Wednesday, 29 April 2015

What is a writer?

"I am not a writer except for when I write" Juan Carlos Onetti

Yesterday I saw the cover of a book that I have written for the first time. It is the first book that will have my name on the cover and it felt like a monumental moment for me. 64 of my Facebook friends (and counting) agree which is not really an indication of the validity of anything but it occurs to me that more virtual friends have applauded the creation of my first book, than the birth of my children, which is fair enough really: there are probably more writers than mothers amongst my Facebook friends and they know what it takes to write a book. In fact, for most people, creating a human being is easy in comparison (gestating them, giving birth to them and looking after them once they're born - not so much.)

Not that it is my first book of course. In fact, it's my fourth book. The others took just as long to write (probably longer) and all of them have had a good reception, as unpublished books go. The first one gained me a distinction on my MA and could have been "a bestseller" according to one of London's top literary agents. The second one got through an agent to an editor before being ultimately rejected. The third one won me £2000 and a Northern Writers Award but is still unpublished. I've written hundreds of poems (some published), have written endless copy for websites and handbooks, have a mountain of notebooks full of my scribbles and I even have an MA in Writing. I'm known as a facilitator of writing and increasingly writing forms more of my public persona and yet, there's something about the publishing of a book with my name on that gives credibility to my life's work.  Particularly for people who don't write, writers are the J K Rowlings and Maeve Binchys of this world and, if you don't have a book with your name on, you may as well be a failure. It is the curse of the novelist in particular that, unlike poets, no-one reads unpublished novels. Until you  have a book with your name on it, it's easy to feel like you don't deserve the title of 'writer', which is nonsense of course, but pervasive nonsense!

It's something I talk about a lot with other writers: when can you call yourself a writer? It has taken me a long time to own that title but I do believe what I tell my writing group: a writer is a person who writes. Nothing more and nothing less. I've been a writer since I was 5 years old and I will be a writer until I die and I only stop being a writer when I lose my way and stop putting words on paper or screen. And yet, in spite of this, I can't help feeling a glow of pride when I see my name on the cover of my first published book. It is another step on the writers' journey and I will enjoy it.

The other thing I outlaw in my writing group is apologising for your work. We're not allowed to preface our readings with disclaimers like, "it's not very good," "I don't know why I'm reading it", "it's probably nonsense" and so I won't allow myself to say that the book with my name on it isn't published by a 'real' publisher. It's a book, with my name on it that will hopefully help hundreds of children around the world and that's good enough for me. You can buy it here, if you like: