I wrote this post on 16 April 2023 when I was more than half way through the Novel Studio course. My sister was critically ill but we, as a family, were clinging on to a sort of blind optimism about her recovery. I was reading a book about writing that was both informative and alienating, and by the time I finished it I wondered who the author might be writing for, because it certainly wasn’t someone like me.
What to do with books that displace you? You survive them, I suppose.
The last time I completed a piece of fiction, sent it out into the world and had it accepted by a magazine was November 2021, which feels like a long time ago. It isn’t that I don’t have stories brewing – I have several embryonic ideas waiting for me to write them. My worry is that, with a novel-shaped elephant in my room, I feel that I’ve forgotten how to capture that glimmer of a short, or short-short story that was so joyous to write before.
How do writers work on novels and short stories at the same time? I have no idea, and no brain capacity with which to do this.
As for having time – well, I thought it was difficult before, but try having not one, but two close family members with a life-threatening illness who need support. I have little energy left for anything else. This is commonplace for women of my age – I’m just fortunate not to have children.
I am lucky to be a student at The Novel Studio, City, University of London, learning the intricacies and practicalities of writing a novel: a very public declaration that I am indeed writing a long form piece of fiction which still makes me cringe a bit. Who am I to be doing such a thing? All I can say so far about the experience is: who knew?
I spent the Easter term break travelling from work to hospital to care home, not writing, but catching up on course reading: James Wood’s How Novels Work, so very clear-sighted about the inner- and outer lives of novels. But what I wrote about representation for the Writing Room in 2022 feels more necessary than ever: out of 108 books in the bibliography of How Fiction Works only three were by writers of colour (all men). I will read Conversations with Toni Morrison afterwards and, most likely, will be writing in the dead of night to meet my deadlines.
I finished the Novel Studio course in June 2023.
With thanks to Kiare Ladner, Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone and Emily Pedder for making it possible.
& to R. and Jim for creating a cocoon at home.