This week's Write Despite guest is author Carol Maggin, who is published by Crooked Cat Publishing. Carol has never suffered from any particular fears about writing, but the idea of 'coming out' as a writer really terrified her. But I'll let Carol tell you about it. Welcome, Carol!
Firstly, a very big thank you to Margaret K Johnson for inviting me onto the Write Despite blog. It’s a pleasure to be here!
What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?
The challenges all came later - as a child, I just wrote stories. I’m not, of course, claiming that these were any good. They often featured John Noakes and Shep, whom I liked, and sometimes our cat, Smoky, who was rather more problematic. As a teenager, it obviously got more angsty, with chunks of everything from Jean Plaidy to Edgar Allan Poe thrown in. And as a young woman, I wrote vast, overambitious and unwieldy narratives that tended, eventually, to collapse under their own weight. I think the point is that none of these were written with any thought of publication. Only my best friends knew that I wrote at all. I wrote a lot, but quietly.
As I got older, and my life got busier, and time for writing became a luxury, a turning point started to loom. By this time I had a cupboard full of stories, plot lines, and manuscripts. Either I just stopped doing this, and let go of the idea of being any kind of published writer, or else I needed to take the next step. I didn’t know what the next step was, and I wasn’t at all sure that I was up to taking it. It sounds melodramatic, given that nothing hinged on this except my view of myself, but it really did feel like teetering on the edge of an abyss.
Finally, pushed on by a sense that I had to either put up or shut up, I applied to go onto an Arvon Advanced Fiction course, and was accepted. The tutors were Alan Bisset and Val McDermid, and the course was held at Moniack Mhor, a lovely old house near Loch Ness.
I nearly didn’t go. Obviously. I teetered. But finally I was on board the train, watching Scotland spin past me, and feeling frozen with nerves. The train was delayed, naturally, and myself and a writer from Norway arrived in the middle of dinner. People made room for us and poured wine, and I began to think that, just possibly, this might all be okay.
There were about ten of us, and we were a variety of nationalities, ages and stages. It helped that we were taking this leap together, and that Alan and Val were great tutors.
We had a week of bright sunshine (I know- bizarre) and for the first time I talked to other writers, read and listened to their work, and began to see what the next step could be. I read my work out loud for the first time. The others liked it. My tutors liked it. They thought it was good. They thought I should certainly be looking for publication. My first reaction was not to believe them, and think they were just being kind. My second was what I can only describe as a long, slow revelation. Writers, after all, were only people like me. If they could do it, then I could. Probably.
How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?
The effect of the course was to finally push me out into the world. It made me buy The Writers and Artists Yearbook as if it was actually relevant to me in some way. It prompted me, in the end, to follow a friend’s suggestion and contact Crooked Cat. I was lucky, and they’ve published two of my novels.
What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?
I’ve never had any fear of writing – it’s as natural to me as thinking – but becoming a visible writer was and is deeply scary. Taking the step of saying, ‘This is mine. What do you think?’ took me years. Decades. And now, if someone says, ‘I’ve read Ruin,’ or ‘I’m reading Daniel Taylor,’ I still have a bit of a tendency to stop breathing.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?
It depends on what the circumstances or challenges are. We all have times in our lives when too much else is going on, and all we can realistically do is get through those times. We may have memories of school. A teacher who wrote on a chirpy little essay of mine ‘Don’t try to be facetious,’ silenced me for a long time. A writer’s group can be a great place to try to stretch your wings, with support and constructive feedback. If there isn’t one in your area, then maybe you could be the one to start it?
After that, it’s a question of chiselling out a little time for writing, and…doing it. Little by little.
Tell us about something you’ve written that you’re really proud of, or something you’re writing now.
I’m proud of both Ruin (a dark contemporary comedy) and Daniel Taylor (a thriller set in Rome) and the great job that Crooked Cat Publishing have done with them.
I’ve also moved into the history of my home city, Liverpool, with The Case of the Adelphi, a tale of the supernatural set in the Adelphi Hotel in 1856. It isn’t published yet, and, typically, I’m teetering on the verge of parting with it.
And I’m probably proudest of my current work in progress, with a working title of The Devil of New York and his Downfall, set in that fabulous city in 1888. It won’t see the light of day for quite a while yet, but it’s the most ambitious novel I’ve attempted, and I’ll be very pleased if it works out as I hope…fingers crossed!
Thank you for hosting me, Margaret, and good writing, mes amis!
It's been a pleasure, Carol! Until next time.
Carol can be contacted:
Facebook: Carol Maginn
Goodreads: Carol Maginn