My first BFF was Sally Nicholes. We met in grade 2 at Brighton Primary School and she lived just around the corner from me. Between our houses lived Georgie, a big black brute of a dog. He was a bitza (bits of various breeds), and every little bit of him was mean. Whenever I walked past, he leapt at his gate with a threatening howl. I soon learnt to avoid him by crossing the road, but not before he scarred me with a life-long fear of dogs.
It was worth braving the beast, because The Nicholes’ home was a haven for book-lovers. Sally’s mum was a school librarian, her sister was a notorious bookworm (reading while riding, she once pedalled her bike into a parked car) and Sally fuelled our fun with her riotous imagination. They had a complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Sally and I earned our first writing credits for a series of plays about a duo of kickass detectives. Think Charlie’s Angels meets The Famous Five. What can I say? It was the late 1970s/early 80s and we were kids trying to be adults. Sally starred in the recurring role of Sexy Legs, while I featured as Pipsqueak (yes, really).
I’m pretty sure it was meant to be a comedy, but we took our roles seriously and conducted extensive field research. We prowled the local streets (keeping a wide berth from Georgie) in search of Mysteries. In our top-secret notebooks, we scribbled unfamiliar number plates, suspicious characters and other wishful thinking. Once, we even called the police to investigate the Case of the Abandoned Red Mazda.
We invited our parents to the opening nights of every Sexy Legs and Pipsqueak Adventure. The Nicholes’ front veranda was our stage. Several times, I recall thinking, It’s not ready, and, terrified that our parents would laugh at us, not with us, I tried to postpone our performances. Sally dragged me up there anyway. Everybody deserves a friend like that to push us past our comfort zone.
Inevitably, we grew up. Sexy Legs is now a partner at Nicholes Family Lawyers, where she does incredible work locally and internationally along with a strong focus on community involvement. I knew her before she was famous.
I, meanwhile, ventured down the maths/science path and by the time I decided to write for real, my life was filled with engineers, accountants and other corporate operatives. There were no writers in my circle. I just ploughed along in my own merry little vacuum. As a mother of two and part-time career consultant, I didn’t have time for anything more. What I didn’t realize was that I couldn’t progress as a writer on my own. In the blog Baby Steps, I promised to address Mistake No. 1: working too long in isolation, so here it is. Think going back to school—it’s all about study and playing with others.
There is a whole writing community out there eager to embrace new converts. Here are some suggestions for how to get involved. I’ll post links at the end of the blog for some of the resources I’ve used, but search online to find options best suited for your location and specific needs.
Writing courses range from university degrees to half-day workshops, online or in person and cover topics from technical writing skills to how to pitch to an agent. You can also enlist the help of professional editors and mentors.
Books and articles cover every aspect of writing. Also, read books in your genre. One of the best things about being a writer is you can legitimately claim that reading is work. The days of feeling guilty for binge reading Liane Moriarty, Lee Child, or Hannah Kent are over. Read, read and then read some more.
Other writers can be found through courses, writing associations and online groups. Form a writers group (like a book club for writers) to share knowledge, ideas, critiques, successes and failures. It’s also the best way to give and receive feedback without the expense of a professional editor (you can learn as much from giving feedback as receiving it).
Over time, your writers group will develop the sort of camaraderie that only comes from competing on the same sports team, surviving school together, or being roommates at college. Create a writing safe haven like the Nicholes’ home. If you’re really lucky, you might even find a friend like Sexy Legs.
Next time: 29 Brown St
Links to Writing Resources
Cornerstones (UK and USA) provides professional editing and mentoring. My novel, Following Betsy Sharpe, was born through a mentoring program with the wonderful Michele Rubin. I also attended an excellent course in the UK, Self-editing and Submitting to Agents with Helen Bryant and Lee Weatherly, where I met one of my writing buddies.
Curtis Brown Creative (UK) provides training for novelists. I did their Six Month Online Novel Writing Course with Nikita Lalwani. Besides learning the nuts and bolts of writing, I formed a strong allegiance and enduring friendship with two fellow writers.
Writer’s Digest (USA) supports and connects writers. I’ve done several of their online programs, which are very helpful.