Becoming a published author brings a number of other opportunities along with it. First of all comes the ‘author appearance’ scenario, which for me elicits mixed emotions. I don’t usually find public speaking too daunting in itself, and who wouldn’t welcome the recognition and even applause (!) that comes with having a first novel published (not to mention the opportunity to sell a few copies). On the other hand, I’m still not entirely comfortable with talking about and selling myself and I also need a lot more practice at getting things right. Now, before I’m quite accustomed to all of this, I’ve been invited to follow up an author event with a writing workshop. That’s as the leader, not as a member of the audience!
Of course in a world where only best-sellers are likely to earn a living from books, most authors can be found delivering teaching of some kind, whether it’s on formal writing courses or in conference workshops and presentations. And so I jumped at the chance, if only because it feels like the logical next step in my writing career and a welcome affirmation that such a thing exists. Of course now that the event is in the offing, I’m having qualms. As a relatively new writer (at least in the public’s eye) who am I to take on the mantle of teacher?
First of all let’s put to bed the whole idea that teachers have somehow failed to make an impact in their chosen field (aka ‘those who can’t, teach’). Teaching is as crucial a role in society as any other, possibly more so. I also believe (bolstered by a fleeting acquaintance with theories of learning) that teaching requires a higher understanding of any topic or area of knowledge than simply applying it in a particular instance. (And I have experienced at first hand the buzz of successfully presenting or explaining a topic that comes from confidence in my own expertise or knowledge). Of course it’s not just about knowledge. There are the people skills required to manage a group of learners, whether they are 16 or 60, eager or disengaged. What I mean is that I don’t think getting to the end of two novels and being on the receiving end of lots of creative writing workshops necessarily qualifies me to deliver one myself.
On the other hand, I suppose it’s a start! And after ten years in writing the game, I’ve also had time to reflect on my craft in a more detached way than when I was first burning the midnight oil with Alec and Bel. Since then I have tried to keep learning from other writers, some of whom are also, by a happy chance, excellent teachers. Not to mention having picked up a treasure house of ideas from all those fellow writers who scatter pearls of wisdom around the internet and Twitterverse. Applying a writer’s eye (too strictly, some might say) to book reviews, and our fortnightly critiquing sessions at Bristol Women Writers has also been a useful way of exercising critical muscle.
And we are not talking an MA in creative writing here. It’s more of a taster session for those who would like to take their writing further. Nor am I alone! Simon Hacker, journalist and novelist who also works in schools, is joint workshop leader. So if any of you out there would like to join me and Simon for a two-hour session in which we will share our experience and expertise – and help you make the most of yours – we’re in Downend Library on September 18th as part of the South Gloucestershire Discover Festival.
New direction or wrong turning? I’ll let you know how it goes!