This Article was printed in the Times of Malta on Saturday 7th January, 2006

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Saturday, January 7, 2006

 

The Art of Writing © by Ursula West

 

I started writing when I was about 19 years old. The result was painfully boring - even to me! I promptly burnt my masterpiece before anyone suspected I had even attempted to put pen to paper.

However, the niggling urge would not go away and I still wondered how people managed to make things sound good and interesting.

In 1969 I found myself working in London and saw an advert for a writers' group in Drury Lane . They suggested I read a book about the art of writing called Pen To Paper, written by Pamela Frankau.

Reading it was like a cool drink in the desert! Every word lit up a light bulb in my soul - this author knew me!

On top of that, the writing group held "critique" evenings and we were encouraged to share our efforts with other people. Learning to share and receive is, I discovered, an essential step in learning to write for others and not just for personal entertainment.

This aspect of it was sorely tested when, about 18 years later, I was attempting to write a series of children's stories while living in the beautiful Yorkshire national parks. By then, I was married with four lovely children who were now all at school.

I had spent many hours of planning, then wrote the stories and drew the illustrations. Right from the start I had set my sights on a commercial outcome and had studied my potential market in great detail. Finally, I felt they were ready to launch on the big wide world.

Sadly though, since I had never actually tried to publish anything before, I was not having a lot of success in finding a home for my work.

Friends and neighbours gave me some interesting pointers on how to go about it but I needed someone who knew the market so I started looking for some good professional advice. I contacted a friend of ours in London who was a theatre agent and he agreed to introduce me to a good literary agent. I was delighted when he arranged for me to go and talk to them in their London office.

I went down to London from Yorkshire with a light heart, full of hope and expectation. The lady who saw me was kind and gave me her full attention. However, by the time she had finished her frank, unbiased, professional and matter-of-fact evaluation of the commercial potential of my work, I was in a state of profound shock! I kept my feelings well hidden and thanked her graciously and took the train back to Yorkshire .

I couldn't even bring myself to share the real nature of my mortifying defeat with my husband when I returned home.

The next day I went out to the lovely meadow behind our house and sat, half hidden in the long grass beside the barley field. As much as Pamela Frankau had brought me to life, this experience had plunged the point of a sharp dagger right into that secret place.

Numbness and disbelief were all I felt until some words from Pamela's book floated quietly into that strange vacuum. "The only difference between an amateur and a professional writer is how they handle rejection." Suddenly, I saw the proverbial crossroad I was standing at. This was a golden opportunity. Now was the time I could make a real choice. I chose to disregard my personal feelings and to remember all the points that the agent had brought up.

A very strange thing happened. With my feelings taking the back seat, I saw the pieces of my work as if they were the pieces of a jigsaw. Things that did not fit simply had to be moved out of the way so that the "picture" could be seen. I thought about her various impersonal observations and, as I did, they seemed to make more and more sense.

If anyone had been there in that field in Yorkshire on that sunny summer afternoon, one may have been left wondering why on earth that strange, sad looking woman slowly started smiling and finally stood up and strode confidently back along the lane and into her house.

Out went more than half of my cleverly contrived "commercial" ideas. In came a fresh new feel to my little characters based, not on what I thought would sell, but on what I enjoyed writing.

A few months later I finally published the series in a local magazine and was receiving good feedback. Another of my short stories was accepted for publication by Hamish Hamilton Publishers and then life took a new turn. We decided to move to Malta . Writing stopped and business building started!

I have now been in Malta for 15 years. Luckily I have been able to use my writing abilities in many ways within our business of running an English language school. For example, encouraging our students to write pieces for the schools' online magazine.

Something, somehow has started me off again. The old thirst is back and write I must. I now find that the subject of writing crops up more and more in conversation and I find myself wondering if there are others on the island who have been smitten with this writing bug. So far, I have found out some interesting facts.

The interest in writing is growing in Malta and organisations like the Foundation for Educational Services (FES) is promoting the art of writing in new and exciting ways, such as through children's and parents' writing clubs in Malta and Gozo. Young writers' clubs are aimed at young people aged from eight to 13; parent writing clubs involve parents in this venture. Parents can even join a Writers' Circle. According to the information on the FES website at http://www.fes.org.mt/programmes/m_home.html , one of the aims of the Malta Writing Programme of the FES is to "offer an opportunity to adults who would like to explore their writing skills in a supportive environment".

I may just go and investigate one day. Meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy sitting with my laptop on my knee, pottering away at my current story in the peace and quiet of our home.

The exciting stage comes next; editing, sharing... then, editing, editing, editing... that's what any art is all about!