/by Alisa James/
A few years ago I took early retirement following a long, happy and successful period of employment as the Examinations Officer of the University of Bristol. It’s a wonderful institution but let’s be honest, who wants to spend their life in an institution? My husband and I moved to North Devon, where he could pursue his ambition of becoming the ‘surf bum’ to which he had always aspired and I could put pen to paper, figuratively speaking. To this end I enrolled in The Writer’s Bureau and bought myself a copy of that font of all knowledge, The Writers & Artists Yearbook. Thus equipped I started down the long and often lonely road to my dream to become a writer.
The Writer’s Bureau is a home-study course developed by professional writers. The enrolment cost wasn’t cheap but it did offer a guarantee of a full refund if I didn’t recoup my expenses after completing the course. It’s a flexible study programme structured into thirty modules which cater for all aspects of writing – articles, stories, features, novels, journalism, non-fiction books and scripts. It also contains useful information and advice on how to deal with editors and publishers, how to present your work and, more importantly, how to sell your work. You can choose your own study path and once you’ve provided your Personal Profile you’re given your first assignment. The course is structured so that you start with relatively easy writing and then progress to more complex work as your skills develop. There’s no time limit on your studies so you can proceed at your own pace but as a rough guide I took about 2-4 weeks on each assignment before sending it off to my personal tutor.
One of the reasons I signed up with The Writer’s Bureau is my great reluctance to show others my work. My husband was very keen to be my proof reader and give advice but honestly, he’s one of the world’s original pedants and for the sake of continuing marital bliss I wanted to avoid this route at all costs – criticism from him would be too much for my fragile ego to bear. I found it much easier to deal with the anonymous face of my tutor each month, although this didn’t stop my mortification when my work was returned with adverse comments in the sidelines or the cringing embarrassment of having basic grammatical errors pointed out. In some respects it was like going back to school and receiving a report on your homework ‘7/10 could do better’ but on the plus side there was also the glow when a particular paragraph was praised.
It was the perfect introduction to the wonderland of writing with all its shades and textures, emotions and excitements. Yes, you need both flair and discipline to write really well – whether for fun or profit – but it does provide a framework for creating an organised approach to making the most of your talents as you gradually get a feel for words and the search for those descriptive phrases which enable you to communicate your true feelings. And it did help me to acquire and develop certain skills and techniques which in turn gave me the confidence to think that some of my articles might be worthy of publication. Utilising The Writers & Artists Yearbook, I sent a few away to prospective publications.
The publishing world is a hard nut to crack and each rejection of a piece that you’ve worked so hard upon is extremely demoralising (I have a file full of rejection letters and could easily paper my entire lounge with them) but I did start to have some success – a huge boost to any aspiring writer. I wrote a number of travel articles which were published by MMM (Motorhome and Motorcaravan Monthly). I also had a small contribution published in Reader’s Digest and a couple of poems published by United Press Ltd in books entitled Still Life and People and Places. Within the first year I had more than recouped the cost of the course.
The support and encouragement of having your own tutor certainly helped but I never did complete the course. WHY? Well, a few years ago, whilst attending a meeting of our Harley-Davidson club at a country Pub in Frithelstock (you have to be sober to say that!) I found myself talking to a local man propped on a stool at the bar. Our small talk eventually arrived at his question ‘What do you do?’ and I told him that I was now a lady of leisure but was currently undertaking a course with the The Writer’s Bureau. It turned out that he was Richard Joseph, of Richard Joseph Publishers Ltd and he had one piece of advice for me – ‘Courses won’t do it – you have to get down and write, write, write’. He gave me a signed copy of his book ‘BESTSELLERS Top Writers Tell How’ and told me to get cracking.
Call me naive but I reckoned that he just had to know what he was talking about. I took his advice to heart and knuckled down. I have now written two children’s books; Reggie’s Rambles and The Catash Inn. A romantic novel Blind Justice and I’m currently working on a murder mystery entitled ‘Death Lies Heavy’. None of these have been published – as I said, the publishing world is a hard nut to crack but never-the-less I had great pleasure writing them and hey, you never know, ‘one day’. Last year I won the Trowbridge Short Story Competition with Ellie’s Choice and also had a travel article published in the Harley-Davidson Magazine Hog’s Tales. This year I also had a short travel article published in the Saturday Telegraph, winning two Easy Jet return tickets to Naples.
So, there you have it. The writing course supported me in my infancy and certainly put me on the right road. Richard Joseph’s timely advice set me off in another direction and since then I have tried to follow his advice and write… write…. write.
A couple of years ago a friend in Canada emailed me with details of a website that published short stories. She said how good it was and that she always logged in each morning to grab a story or two whilst enjoying her cup of coffee. That was my introduction to Shortbread Stories – long may it continue.