After an emotionally draining year
caring for my Dad who died at the end of June, I desperately needed a break.
Opportunity knocked in the form of Writers' Holiday. I've been going every
few years ever since Anne and Gerry Hobbs set it up 27 years ago. My early
visits were as a delegate, and I attended the courses and lectures anxious to
learn everything I could from professional authors who, having been there and
done it, were so generous with their time and expertise.
A few years later, after I'd had
several novels published, I was thrilled to be invited to lead a course. As far as I was concerned the only thing I was
qualified to teach was what I had learned by doing. So the course I offered was
The Craft of Novel Writing. In the blurb I made it clear that I was not
laying down rules, or claiming that mine was the only way, just that it had
worked for me and might work for others.
I was really nervous and thought if ten people came I'd be thrilled and
it would justify Gerry's invitation. Fifty-two turned up so we had to move into
the lecture theatre. It was exhausting, inspiring, we all had a terrific time,
and I was invited back to lead further courses.
But this year attending as a
delegate offered me the chance to meet up with old friends and enjoy a
refresher course in the techniques of writing. Though I've 27 books
published I still suffer doubts; still have days when my confidence is at
basement level and dropping. The longer I
continue writing, the more I realise there's still so much I can learn. So though my original plan had been to use the escape from normal life to make progress on my current book, I decided instead to take each day as it came and enjoy every moment.
After spending the first half of
the week sitting in on Lesley Horton's Intermediate Novel course, Moving it On, I spent the second half at
Stretching Your Writing Muscles given by historical novelist Elizabeth
Hawksley, one of our HNUK bloggers and an inspiring teacher.
As a reader I greatly admire the
ability of poets to evoke emotion and images using very few words. But as a
writer I have always preferred the broad canvas of a novel. So when Elizabeth
allowed us eight minutes in which to write a haiku, I had a
Haiku is a Japanese form of poem
containing 17 syllables. Not 17 lines, just 17 syllables. I knew that. What I didn't know, and it was briefly
paralysing to be informed, was that the first line must contain 5 syllables and
evoke an image, the second 7 and a mood, and the third 5 and an observation.
My immediate reaction was I can’t. But I was there to have my writing
muscles stretched, though I hadn't expected the rack!
We could choose any subject. My mind was blank. When Elizabeth
suggested A Winter Evening I grabbed it like a lifebelt. Most of my
lined A4 sheet ended up as scribbles. But
when Elizabeth called ‘time’ I was astonished to realise I had my 17
syllables. Some of those read out were
awesome. Mine certainly wasn't. But I'd achieved more than I expected. Which
reminded me of a very apt quote: Try, and
you very well might. Don't, and you certainly won't. I arrived home refreshed, invigorated and re-enthused about my book. Taking that brief step back helped me make a giant leap forward.