I was blind to my love for writing until the day I got published…which is an entirely vain thing to realise.
I have written stories – terrible ones, I apologise profusely to my parents – from the age of about six. Some were 15-page dramas, others were 100-page fantasy novels. Most were never finished and some were completed and then abandoned in the editing stages.
I finished what I considered my first ‘real’ novel at 14 years old – Little Lake it was called. A tragic World War Two romance set in the idyllic Cotswolds of old. Terrible idea but the writing had potential as I would later reassure myself.
At the age of 16, I wrote the epic tales of my Great-Grandfather and his brothers in World War One. A version I had heard as a child anyway, and again I saw potential. This time I worked at it a bit more and felt ready to send it out into the world. In hindsight it wasn’t ready…but it could be one day.
After the rejections came in I went back down a notch thinking ‘I am only 16, ‘what do I know about writing’
I left it for quite a while. Until I went to University.
I enrolled in a History and Acting & Screen Performance but due to some module credit issues I had to take a third subject, and Creative Writing just seemed like the obvious choice.
My first year of university was tough socially and I found myself spending buckets of time on my own. I wasn’t inspired by anything yet I had to force myself to write weekly stories for my class assignments. Soon it became obvious that I, unlike most of my counterparts, had written a lot before coming to university and had sought out information on how to write better. I realised, again rather vainly, that my writing wasn’t as bad as I had once thought and if I tried in my class it could get better.
But my first year was tough and nothing happened to inspire me. One day, my best friend visited and we got drunk listening to Christmas songs and watching the last season of Merlin. Then suddenly I had a story idea. And I wrote it and changed the setting, used the same drunken catchphrases – which we bizarrely caught on video – and voila! My final piece was drafted.
It got a 2:1 and it was my lowest-ever mark in Creative Writing. In prose anyway.
The Student Wordsmith
However, just because it got a low mark didn’t mean it was bad.
That story became an award-winner over at the Student Wordsmith and got published in an anthology of stories and poetry by students across the country. I had to go to the book launch and receive my prize as well as do a reading of the work.
Winning a prize after the book reading
But before that, before I submitted that story, I entered a competition.
I was still down in my first year, still feeling a little like a failure and uninspired when a tutor sent through details of a competition hosted by the local council. They called for a poem about World War One.
I had written a novel about World War One and had done the research, both in and outside of University, and I thought: why not! So I wrote a poem, in twenty minutes. I put it in an envelope which refused to stick and washi-taped it to death and then shoved it in the university letterbox as I rushed to get a coffee before a lecture.
Two months later I got a cryptic email asking me if I was attending the competition’s award ceremony. I couldn’t attend, as I had moved back home for the summer. The organiser said that was a shame, she had hoped I would be there. It turned out I had won.
That was the first time I had won anything for writing. It was the first time I had achieved something other than a grade for validation. It was the first step towards becoming a writer. And it felt good.
Submissions & Being Published
So I submitted other poems elsewhere. It was the centenary year so there were a few calls for World War One poem and short stories in newspapers and online. I wrote a non-fiction piece for my local newspaper – unintentionally as I had only submitted the idea via an email yet they decided to publish the email instead. Then my mum cut out a newspaper clipping calling for Christmas World War One story submissions and placed it in my purse.
It remained in my purse from Halloween until the 1st of December. The deadline was the 2nd so I bashed something together and sent it over. I didn’t win the competition but I got listed as one of the highly commended writers in the magazine of a national newspaper on Christmas Eve.
From here came the submission to The Student Wordsmith. The story itself was turned down for a previous edition of the journal yet when the call for stories based on student life came up I was approached to re-submit an edited draft as well as a few poems. All three got published, one won a prize.
A few things have happened since then, most notably for me that I finished my third novel and tried really hard to edit throughout my last year of University. It was requested by three literary agents. And whilst none of them took me on as a client, to have achieved the next step into becoming a published novelist still feels like a huge deal to me.
Most recently I was published in the Adventure Edition of Popshot Magazine. Another World War One piece: it’s becoming my niche! It is a Creative Non-Fiction piece about Dorothy Lawrence, the only British female to get to the front in France in 1915.
They have recently released the story along with a new illustration on the Popshot website and it can be read here.
Dorothy Image. Rights attributed to Roland Hidell & Popshot Magazine
I had no idea it had been re-published online until I was scrolling through my Instagram and began reading my own work thinking ‘this is familiar’. It was the first time I had seen my work quoted on something. That feels like another achievement.
I am writing this post possibly for validation, but mostly because I have needed a reminder of how much I enjoy writing and how much can be achieved through it.
It got me through my first year of University, it has given me a sense of accomplishment. The actual writing itself has been a process I’ve enjoyed since I was 6 years old. What other child do you know who would rather ignore the TV and games to sit at the dining room table with a refill pad and a fountain pen?
Sure, sometimes writing is lonely and it can get you down when you don’t feel like you have an idea. But when you get published, read your own work or hear someone say that they enjoyed it, it feels incredible.