by Anthea Morrison, a writer on a Fiction week at The Hurst May 12 – 17, tutored by Andrew Miller and Helen Cross
When our group introduced ourselves to each other on the first evening at The Hurst, my heart sank a little. Although the Fiction: Taking It Further course was for people writing any sort of fiction, almost everyone except me had written or was part way through writing a novel, with several being published authors. I write short stories, and when I arrived, the idea of writing a novel felt both like a fantasy and like jumping into a void. I also realised that after several years working from home pretty much on my own, interacting with a group of strangers is not as easy for me as it used to be. We Brits are not the best at giving away too much too soon, but luckily we counted some internationals among us who helped speed the process along.
Cooking, eating and spending the evenings together encouraged people to get to know each other, helped along by the fantastic accommodation. The welcoming communal rooms were full of light, and the newly and beautifully renovated house had plenty of space for both private writing and socialising. Every day I went for walks in the grounds, through woods carpeted with bluebells, or through the maze of secret gardens that led into each other, sometimes alone, brimming with ideas, sometimes chatting with another writer. By the end of the week, many of us were sharing our histories and discovering the fascinating snippets and stories that make us all who we are.
Although I remained in awe of the experienced novelists in the group, I quickly realised that instead of feeling intimidated, I should feel privileged to be in the company of writers with so much experience. They had so much to share about their writing process, and it was a revelation to find out that they continue to struggle with the same problems of self-doubt and motivation that newer writers experience. I learned that there is no one way to write a story or a novel, and indeed no two people I spoke to had approached it in anything like the same way.
Our guest writer, Elanor Dymott, said she started writing her first novel with a setting and a murder, but had no idea who the murderer was until she had written most of the book! Other people can vividly picture specific scenes, and write these out to see what develops, and others start with just a single image or specific character trait. Always the message from the tutors was that the single most important thing is to write freely, and not be restricted by editing or censoring yourself. I can now see myself writing a novel one day, and I’m already working on ideas and scenes, knowing that even if these don’t end up in a book they are still helping to improve my writing.
I could write reams on what I learned about the technical aspects of writing on the course, both from our excellent tutors and from the rest of the group. But it wasn’t just about that. Listening to others talking about their writing practice has re-invigorated my own. Understanding that everyone battles with self-doubt has made mine seem less important. Writing is what matters. Just sitting at your desk and writing, every day, staying with the problems, finding out what it is you really want to say; not by thinking about it, but through writing it into being.