Sunday, 28 June 2009

Getting Started

Most people have a tale to tell about how they got started. I don’t mean with the actual writing – I think it’s something most of us have always done. I mean how we ever got to think we might be published.

For some it is through a writing group or a course or maybe from a writing holiday where they are inspired by a particularly good writing tutor.

I’ve never belonged to a writing group and I’ve never been on a writing holiday but I always wanted to be a writer and my trigger was the right person saying the right thing to me at the right time.

I’ve just ordered Claire Rayner’s autobiography, “How Did I Get Here From There” and you know if I should thank anyone for helping me at the start it should be Claire.

As a teenager with a burning and desperate desire to write I didn’t know how to start or even if it was worth trying. I had a poem published in a school magazine and a sketch what I wrote (always wanted to say that) was used in a school production.

It was a comedy sketch and to my amazement it made people laugh. Never mind that I was so nervous I got my lines wrong during one of the performances.

Anyway, back to Claire. She was the agony aunt on the Sun newspaper at the time and I wrote to her enclosing a stamped addressed envelope and asked for her advice.

She wrote me a lovely letter in reply and I wish I’d kept it, but her advice was to get a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. I had no idea such a thing existed. Our library had one current copy which as far as I remember you weren’t allowed to take out, but they also had the previous year’s edition which could be borrowed and so my mum put in for it for me.

It wasn’t so much Claire’s advice as the fact she didn’t write back and say, “Don’t be such an idiot, people like you don’t become writers. Get your head out of the clouds and take a reality check.”

The book came in dog-eared and well used and oh what a treasure it was. I’ve bought my own copies since – not every year, but every now and then and I still get the same feeling of anticipation and hope when I open it.

My parents never doubted me, but I always thought they might be biased and they were a bit inclined towards having their heads in the clouds as well. To have someone like Claire Rayner offer advice and wish me luck – well . . .

It occurred to me this morning that when I started writing, I used to write a lot about my hopes and dreams and if I wanted to vent my spleen I let rip in a good old fashioned confession story (I lost count of the number of times my poor long suffering husband said to me, “You were angry with me when you wrote this weren’t you . . ?”)

These days I seem to write more about my feelings and the past and as I grow older, more subjects become taboo for me because it’s happened too many times that something I have written about has later come true. But I’m in a gloomy mood; it hasn’t been a particularly good week for one reason and another - the only good thing I can say about it is that it could have been worse!

But today isn’t a day for feeling glum. I’m off out later – my eldest granddaughter will be two tomorrow and it’s her birthday party today.

Anyway I was just wondering who or what did it for you?


  1. I envy that your parents were supportive - my mum just wasn't interested. I used to buy her copies of whatever I'd been published in, but she threw them all out (she wasn't being nasty, she just didn't think they were important). My ex husband went even further and openly ridiculed my ambitions (just one of the many reasons he's now my ex). This sounds like I'm feeling very sorry for myself, but the truth is that I'm stubborn, and those reactions only made me want to write more.

    Claire Rayner's just lovely. I read her autobiography a couple of years ago - it's fascinating and a really good read.

    Birthday hugs to your granddaughter. I remember my 12-year-old's second birthday - seems like yesterday. They grow up so fast.

  2. That's so sad, Suzanne. After my mum died I found she'd kept every magazine I'd been in.

    I think you're right though - the negative reactions of people can give you just as big a push as the positive ones. Good for you for keeping going!

  3. Oh Suzanne, how miserable that your family didn’t support your writing efforts when you needed them most. It’s all the more credit to you that you had the determination to ignore them and forge ahead with your writing dreams. Well done you!

    My first foray into writing was when I was 12 and had a letter published in the Weekly News. Having to cycle four or five miles back and forth to school every day, the letter was a bit of a moan about motorists who didn’t give cyclists enough respect (let alone room on the roads)

    I never for a moment thought it would be used so didn’t even bother to buy the paper. Fortunately one of my school chums did, and spotted my letter. Seeing my name in print at the end of that letter was the best feeling ever.

    My pride knew no bounds when a beautiful boxed set of brush/comb/mirror arrived in the post a few days later. It took pride of place on my dressing table for years.

    Well, that’s how I started writing - and I’ve been doing it pretty much ever since.

    PS: Sorry about your glum week, Teresa. Birthday party therapy with a lively two-year-old granddaughter will sort that every time….enjoy!

  4. It is a credit to you Suzanne that despite your problems you still managed to write and prove them wrong! I'm lucky in that I have a very supportive family. My only regret - well it's not a regret really as I don't have those - is that my Mum died before I started writing for real and proper, so she had no idea that I had a hidden desire to write and she never saw any of my work or lived to see me in print. But that's the way life is and it certainly gave me the kick I needed to persue my dream of becoming a writer. If you want to do it then do it because you never know what's around the corner and you may miss your chance.

    I started out by writing letters to local newspapers then nationals and writing magazines, glossy women's mags etc. Then I did a Creative Writing course with the OU. Just before I finished that I joined my local writing group and have been writing ever since!

    I'm sorry you've had a bad week, Teresa and I hope things improve next week.

    Julie xx

  5. Elizabeth McKay28 June 2009 at 18:16

    I won an inter-schools writing competition (run by Brook Bond the tea company of all people) when I was 11 and around the same time I had a poem published in the children's section of a Scottish Sunday paper. English and writing were my best subjects at school (I was rubbish at maths - still am). I did a secretarial course at secondary and did office work when I left. I'm so glad I took that route as it means I can type my stories quickly and am pretty well clued up on IT. I used to sit on the bus and make up stories about the people I saw but I never wrote anything down. About 12 years ago a friend at work invited me to a writers' group he was setting up. At first I said no (what would people think - me going to something like that!). But I went along, loved it and submitted my first story to Best which was accepted. I think my family were a bit amused at first by my new hobby but supportive. My advice to Suzanne is go for it!

    Hope you have a better week Teresa - and ate lots of cake at the party!

  6. I started writing as a kind of therapy after a terrible time when both my parents died within two years of each other and then a few other grim things happened as well including a car crash. I think it was fitting that the two first things I had published were 'real life' stories - one about my parents and grandparents, and one about my life after the car crash. I wish my parents had lived to see it, but they didn't and that first story will always stand as a tribute to them.

  7. Crikey so many similar stories! Like most writers I'd always dabbled but never thought of submitting anything to a mag - didnt know you could! I probably would have gone on scribbling in secret in a notebook or given up altogether but then tragedy struck. My sister died aged 40 - this was in '94. It hit me very hard. It made me take stock - this isn't a rehearsal, as they say. If you want something, best grab it before it's too late. But I didn't know how.
    It was my brother who spotted the Writers Bureau's 'So You Want To Be A Writer?' advert, tore it out and handed it to me.
    I signed up immediately and since that day have sold over 200 stories to the womags. That first sale was important not only because it meant I was a (proper) writer at last - it was a tribute to my sis. I bought a sun dial with the fee and it's got pride of place in my garden so I can think about her and smile!

  8. I've so enjoyed reading your post, Teresa, and also found all these comments very moving. The common thread seems to be that we all lack confidence as writers until something, or someone, gives us that all-important push, or boost, towards trying to become published. For me, it was winning two short story competitions back in the 1990s. It made me feel like I was entitled to take myself more seriously as a writer, and start submitting stories to magazines. I also agree that losing people we hold dear can shock us into realising that life is too short to stand dithering on the sidelines, wondering if we'll ever have the nerve to try to achieve our ambitions. It's lovely to be able to share these feelings and memories with other people who understand. Thanks for giving us the opportunity.

  9. What smashing and inspiring stories you all have. Suzanne with your determination despite the lack of support, Rena with your lovely boxed brush/comb/mirror set for your first piece of writing – what a great reminder every day that you could do it!

    Julie it’s so sad you lost your mum before she saw you in print, but she’d be so proud of you. My dad died when I was 18 so he never saw me in print which has always made me feel sad.

    Elizabeth – me too, absolutely dreadful at maths. Thank goodness your friend invited you along to the writers group and how fantastic you sold your first story! I’d have to cough an awful lot if I were to say how many I had to write before I had one accepted!!

    That’s so hard Helen, to lose both parents so close together. What an awful time you went through and how fitting that your first story became a tribute to your mum and dad.

    And Sue – the sun dial, what a lovely and permanent tribute to your sister.

    You’re so right, Write Woman about how it can take losing someone dear to shock us into action. Winning two competitions must have been such a confidence booster.

    It is so nice of you all to share your experiences - the joy and the pain. Thank you.

    The birthday party was lovely as was the birthday girl – it was so nice to spend some relaxing time with the family (and I did have lots of cake and those chocolately marshmallowy biscuits, iced gems, jammy dodgers . . . .)

  10. Hi Teresa,

    I just want to say how much I've enjoyed reading your stories over the years in My Weekly and People's Friend.

    At the moment I'm waiting for the conclusion to Oh No Uncle Felix! in My Weekly as we're 2 months behind in Australia. I think this serial is great!

    P.S. I've had one short story published many years ago in Australia in a woman's mag but haven't written for years. Stories like Uncle Felix make me want to take it up again :-) I just have to find the time!

  11. Florrie (Jenny) - that is so lovely of you, thank you so much. I'm so glad you're enjoying the serial - it was such fun to write.

    It certainly sounds as if you should take up writing again. I hope you do!

  12. Sorry about your rotten week, Teresa.

    I was an accidental latecomer to writing. In 2001 I was going through a divorce and living in a new place so decided to take an evening class as a cheap and safe way of getting out and meeting people. Wine tasting and local history were full, so I took creative writing.

    Luckily for me, my tutor was the lovely and encouraging novelist June Hampson.

  13. I can easily relate to Suzanne's comments regarding support from her family, particularly her ex-husband. I have one of those too, and one of the reasons is very similar.
    Lack of support is a huge factor in my starting so late. (I'm 50 this year...already!) Writing is something I've always wanted to do, but largely kept my ambitions to myself, jotted down thoughts and feelings and little stories, then burned them on the fire before they were found and ridiculed.
    Then I started researching my family history, and discovered that my grandfather had already written an account of what he knew of it way back in 1958. What a treasure that was. Having transcribed it, I then realised that my mum likes to write too, though she does it only for herself. Since then I have had nothing but support and encouragement from both Mum and my partner, who doesn't read, but understands dreams and ambition.
    So I'm just starting out. It's scary, I have no idea where it is going to go, or if it is going to go anywhere at all, but I'm loving it.
    I'm way behind everyone else here, but hopefully I will have some success with my writing as time goes by. It won't be for lack of trying.

  14. Claire Rayner's book is great, Teresa. I read it a couple of years ago. I learned the facts of life from Claire. There was a pull out booklet in Woman magazine [I think it was that one]. My mother sat me down and told me the finer points and let me read the booklet that was aimed at children.

    The person who inspired me the most was the English teacher I had when I was around 14 years old. She loved my stories and used to read them out to the class. I never thought I had any particular talent until then.

    I used to read magazines like 'Loving' and 'Love Affair' which were probably for older readers. Does anyone remember those? I think they were mostly written in the first person and so I used to write those sort of stories for class in the same style.

    I remember one she read out that I'd written. It was about a newly married couple and something about someone who was murdered and their body parts hidden in bales of hay as it went through a baling machine! No wonder I'm into such gory programmes nowadays like, 'The Sopranos' etc!

    In the beginning when I began to write I had very little support from my other half. I think he resented the time I spend on the computer. It got to the stage one day where I threw a table cloth over the screen and said, "That's it, I give up!"

    I soon changed my mind though. It was like a turning point as I knew I would be miserable if I gave it all up. I think he got the wrong idea in the beginning and thought I was messing about online and in chat rooms etc. Well, I was a bit, but I was writing too and submitting and started to get acceptances from websites and magazines for non fiction.

    Nowadays, even though he doesn't rush to read any of my stuff, he is far more supportive and helps me to sell my books and even bought me a new computer! So things can change. No one should be forced to give up their dream, it just isn't right.

    Oh, and that English teacher? I dedicated one of my books to her, even though I have no idea where she is now!

  15. What a lovely thing for Clare Rayner to do.

    I started writing as an escape from a miserable marriage. Now I'm perfectly happy, but I just love writing and can't imagine ever stopping doing it.

  16. I used to write all the time until I left school. Didn't d o any more until I was forty when my life was not good. |It is a good therapy and a bonus if you sell anything!

  17. PS. Glad to be back, I haven't been able to get on to your website for a while. Don't know why. I joined writers news talkback and got some really good advice.

  18. Take no notice of me, Patsy – I was just being a miserable old bat as usual! It was fate that the wine tasting and local history were full. I’m astounded you didn’t start until 2001 – if I’d been asked I would have thought you’d been appearing in the mags for longer than you have! What a great tutor you had!

    I’m so sorry you’ve had such lack of support, Teresa and it’s so sad you felt you had to burn your stories. No one should be made to feel like that. But what a find you had with the family history – treasure indeed! Your mum and your partner sound lovely and you’ll get there, I’m sure of it!

    Lynette – I love your story about the bits of bodies in the baling machine – what a wonderful imagination, no wonder your teacher was so supportive! I’m so glad you’re getting support from your other half now. Yes I remember Loving and Love Affair – Loving was my favourite magazine and I was so thrilled when they started buying my stories.

    Glad you’re happy now, Debs. Don’t ever stop writing!

    And Marian I’m sorry it took things not being good to get you started again – and very glad you found your way back here!

  19. I was inspired by an English teacher too. A long time ago. She was as mad as a hatter, bless her, but she loved reading things out loud and acting out all the parts, and she used to my perform my stories with just as much enthusiasm as when she was acting out King Lear!
    She used to do all the parts and nobody else in the class ever got a look in, but she was great and I will never forget her and her appreciation of my work. Just wish my family appreciated it half as much now.

  20. Elizabeth McKay29 June 2009 at 18:53

    Yes it was great getting the first story I submitted accepted Teresa, but the downside was I thought everything I sent out after that would be published. Needless to say it didn't work out like that and it was a long time before I sold anything else. I'm not sure I would have carried on if it hadn't been for the first one!

  21. I too joined Writers' Bureau, got a couple of stories published by My Weekly, then had a baby, retrained for a teaching career and sidelined my writing for around 8 years. In 2004 a terrible back injury enforced a long period of lying down and re-evaluating my life. I'd never stopped writing, but had stopped submitting. I hadn't ever taken it seriously, you see -it was just this weird thing I did that other people didn't. I realised then that you never know what's round the corner of your life and I didn't want to die not knowing if I could have made it, so when I got better I started submitting seriously. I'm still not sure I have "made it" but writing is one of the things that makes me happy so I will never stop!

  22. Mine is also such a delightful story (aren't they all? - the stuff that fiction is made of), that I'm going to put it on today's (Tuesday's) blog ... :o)

  23. That must have been exciting for you, Teresa, to write for 'Loving'. Can you remember which year they stopped producing the magazine? I think I used to read it between 1975-78.

  24. Some great posts here! It's amazing how many likeminded people there are, yet when you first start out writing you think you're an oddball. Like everyone else here I always knew I was a writer. I joined a writing class and one night the teacher was talking to a small group of us. I thought she was talking to someone else when she said "I think you can really make a go of writing." I remember looking round and realising, after a bit, that it was me she was talking to. I remember riding my bike home afterwards feeling on top of the moon and not long after that I sold my first story to My Weekly. That was back in 1992 and I haven't stopped writing since. Not all plain sailing, obviously! I used to read Teresa and Della's stories avidly (still do) and try to work out what they were getting right that I was getting wrong. I know what it is now - application and commitment!!

  25. What a lovely teacher, Susan – she sounds so enthusiastic!

    Elizabeth - even though it took me ages to sell my first story, I still thought that once I’d sold it, that was it, I’d never see another rejection slip (oh boy was I stupid). I bet you would have carried on though even if you hadn’t sold your first submission.

    So sorry it took that terrible injury to get you writing again, Lydia – but glad you did all the same (started writing I mean, not hurting yourself!)

    Just read your blog, Diane – a brilliant post!

    I had to look up when Loving stopped, Lynette – I think IPC stopped publishing it in 1995 and the title was then taken over by another publisher who carried on until 1998 – that’s a rough guess though. Lorna Read was a terrific editor.

    That’s lovely Geri. I can just picture you looking all around, not realising the teacher was speaking to you - and the bike ride home afterwards - wonderful!