At the weekend we went to a party. It was in a tiny village, a hamlet really, where there aren't any streetlights and the night is so dark that you feel as if you are walking into the unknown. When we arrived, the sky was covered with cloud. Walking up the road my, husband and I held hands, concentrating on each footstep, unable to see each others faces or the uneven ground beneath us. After the quietness, the stillness, the cool air bathing your skin, the contrast of walking into a warm, well-lit house brimming with people is startling.
There was much laughter, delicious canapés and catching up with people I hadn't seen for some time. "Are you still writing?" someone asked. It is a recurring question yet somehow always takes me by surprise. The answer of course is yes and hopefully will remain so. These conversations take on a pattern. The next question is usually, "Have you had any books published recently?" How lovely to be able to say yes. Publication seems to act as a kind of validation in the eyes of others. It appears to imbue your work with a higher worth. It has been judged by people in the business and not found to be wanting. Many times I have had to answer no to this question and sensed an awkwardness from the questioner, pity maybe? And me? How have I felt at these moments? I am ashamed to admit this but I have felt a little bit of a failure, as if I and my writing were not good enough. Although I know this to be wrong, it can be difficult to quell the sense of inadequacy. The truth is that it can be some of our best work which never gets accepted by a mainstream publisher. The truth is that we are incredibly lucky to now have the freedom to self-publish with relative ease if we so choose and give others the chance to share work of which we are proud, but which publishers cannot fit into a certain slot.
Sometimes I get asked something else too. "Why do you write?" To be honest, on bad days, that is a question I sometimes ask myself. Why do I feel compelled to spend so much of my life putting words on a page? On those days, when there is so much to do that I can't decide whether to fit the writing around my life or my life around the writing, I even wonder if it is worth it. When we left that party on Saturday night the clouds had cleared and high, high above us the stars twinkled. If we had been utterly lost they would have guided us home. And yesterday, after a lovely Christmas, and when my motivation to return to work was a little low, completely out of the blue, I was given guidance. I was reminded why I walk into the unknown each time I begin a story. The answer came from someone I have never met called Cathryn. She has posted a review on Amazon and it was pointed out to me by a friend. Cathryn, who is eleven years old, says that she fell behind with reading for a few months and that Last Chance Angel has helped her get back into it. That to me is the ultimate reward. It makes all of the hours spent writing and re-writing worthwhile. So, in the year ahead, when my plots get muddled or my characters refuse to behave, or I'm just finding it difficult to get going, I shall remember Cathryn's words with immense gratitude.
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