This is not a ‘how to’ writing book in the usual sense, but an account of one writer’s journey from the first tentative words on the page, through self-doubt and crises of confidence, to eventual publication and a Costa award. ‘I came late to writing,’ Avril says, ‘and after a matter of only months found myself hopelessly in love’. After some ‘early, modest success’, came a series of knock-backs, until in 2011 she ‘came dangerously close to falling out of love with the one thing that had changed my life’. Avril generously shares everything she’s learned in the process of becoming a writer - the heartache, the envy, the rejections, the apparent successes that turned out to be almost as damaging as the rejections, and the survival mechanisms she developed to cope with them.
The purpose of the book is to encourage and inspire, rather than instruct - to help an individual find their own voice, their own path through the jungle, rather than offer prescriptive advice. Any advice that Avril shares is sound and well-tested. This is a skill-share, offering hard-won knowledge and insight from a clear-eyed author whose humility hasn’t been altered by her success.
What is necessary, Avril stresses, is to stay in love with writing. Too often, for a professional author, all the fun goes out of it. If what we do becomes too deadly serious, then our writing will suffer and so will we. ‘We should be in love with words. We should swim in them, drown in them.... Be passionate about words; in the end they are all we have’.
She has some good quotes that reflect on the current state of publishing - this one from William Trevor: ‘In the end, only the books matter. Nowadays, books tend to be shovelled into a chat-show wheelbarrow, more talked about than read.’
Avril went down the road of self-publication, though she still has a foot in both camps and a very pragmatic attitude. ‘It’s very easy to get seduced by the possibilities of success and the lure of agents and editors,’ she warns. ‘It’s not difficult to find yourself losing your way and writing something that’s not true to who you are. I’ve done it. I’ve written more sex into a book to please an agent. I’ve written crime fiction, invented a serial killer, ditched one book and moved onto the next, and more . . . Being new to writing I was vulnerable to such persuasions (which I have no doubt at all were made from a genuine desire to help me get a book deal). I wouldn’t do it like that a second time round because in the end if you’re not writing from your own truth the writing is not truly yours.’
One of Avril’s good ideas is that of having a ‘writing buddy’ - someone you can trust to share work with and give feedback. Avril meets hers on a regular basis for a writing and reading session giving each other mutual support. You can talk through a particularly difficult plot twist, get feedback on a piece of writing you’re not sure about. I’d love a writing buddy - though I think it’s probably difficult to find someone you’re completely in tune with. Avril adds a quote from E.B White - ‘It’s not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer’.
I liked this book very much - so much of what Avril says resonated with me. It gave this rather jaded, post-biography, writer a definite injection of enthusiasm.