On with today: I asked Vanessa to write a letter to herself in the past, more specifically to herself just as she started out her journey as a writer, and the superb result is below. Enjoy!
Below: The 2002 Vanessa
Today, you sheltered from a thunderstorm in Waterstones and came home wet through - but with three books. I guess you can’t drip by the 3 for 2 table without buying something. You made a pot of tea and sat down to read the third one, bought because you liked the cover... and you didn’t get up until you’d finished the book, it was that great. You will get a cold.
But that book, Austerlitz, by W G Sebald, made you think, didn’t it? It broke so many rules, beautifully. It told a story that held you - wet as you were - right through until it put you down. And you decided then - I love this. I want to do this. Whatever ‘this’ is.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you do ‘do this’. It will take a while to get off the ground - there will be false starts, and you will start workshops, and leave them, until you wonder if you are just a dilettante. You will meet people who proclaim themselves gurus, peddlers of tricks of the trade, you will fall for scams - oh there are so many traps for the aspiring writer. And although I could warn you exactly who to avoid, and when, so that you don’t go through these nasties ... I am not going to do that. It’s all formative, and in the end, it will add up to a great grounding, one that will serve you well.
After a few of these nasties, you will be fine. The turning point will come when you meet someone who points out the vast difference between ‘wanting to write’, and ‘wanting to be a writer’. And then, you settle into a sort of rhythm, and stop chasing butterflies. You will see that ‘being a writer’ actually means zilch - the term encompasses all that is surface. And that there is a world of difference between that and what you want.
Remember those moments when you used to have arguments with Mum, as a child - you wanting to read Enid Blyton, and she wanting you to read something ‘worthwhile’? And despite her, the Enids came home from the library anyway... but she fed them to you as one might sweets - a reward for reading something she had chosen... like The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert De Jong? And remember how it slowly dawned on you that great as a page-turner was, the absolute magic of being transported into a complete world painted in nothing but words, was better than anything else. And somehow, Sixty Fathers did that? The child you were would remember that book and the people in it for over half a century, whereas the Enids - they would merge into a great fun pile of adventures, but the people... who were they exactly? Where did these things happen? Why?
Ok, so it is now 2002 where you are. If I could tell you the following, you probably won’t believe me, but I’ll have a go.
You will be told in 2003, by a professional whose opinions are based on years of knowledge, that you have four things against you. First: You are over fifty. Second: you are female. Third: you write short stories. Fourth: You write literary work. It is therefore unlikely that you will ever be published.
You were a stubborn kid - and that seems to come back, but maybe it pays off. You will gradually amass publications of short fiction online and in print. Your first collection will appear in 2008. In 2009 you will be asked to compile a text book. In 2010 your second collection will come out. In 2011 your fourth book will appear, a novel called ‘The Coward’s Tale’ which has taken you six years to write. If this is 2002 - dear V - you will start playing with the voice of this piece, and the first little section, next year.
Enjoy, if you can. When you hate it, remember, it will come right in the end. And it will get out there, to join the millions of books all fighting with each other, fighting for publicity, fighting for review space, fighting for a platform at festivals, on bookshops shelves. Let it go. It will either swim or sink. You did your best, OK?
I dunno. What does this all prove anyway. You want to write, and you will. Your work will be ‘out there’ and may even give people pleasure, who knows?
You might even start to get invites to things, commissions, be asked for interviews in newspapers... all great, but...
But that’s not what it’s about, is it? The glitter washes off in the end. It won’t last. Good writing, if it really is good, will. So don’t give up, and never think you’ve ‘got there’ - to ‘get there’ would mean reaching the end.
Keep going. Keep trying to write better.
Now then - do you fancy winning a copy of The Coward's Tale? Well, you should, because it's really really good and I have one here and I'll post it out to you and everything.
Just leave a comment below - that's all. I'll draw the names out of a hat, or a sock maybe, in a week.
If you feel inspired to write a little note or a letter to yourself, here or elsewhere, please do. Just link back here, and let me know and I'll link to you.