Sunday 23 August 2020

Starting late, but catching up fast... Sue Purkiss

 I've written a few times here about the writing class I run in my local community, most recently about going online - after a fashion - during lockdown. We have produced and published a few anthologies for charity - but by and large, everyone writes for the joy of it, not because they want to be published. That's been one of the great pleasures of the group; that the writing, and the sharing of it, is the thing.

But this month, one of our members has broken the mould. Margaret Castle has been coming to the class for a fair few years now. When she read out her first piece of work, it didn't work. It read like the synopsis of a novel; this happened, then that happened, then this happened - and so on. It didn't work as a short story. This happened the next time too, and the next. She said she just couldn't help it: what came into her head was a whole cast of characters and sequence of events, not the careful focus on a particular, crucial point in time that, in general, a short story requires.

So I suggested that perhaps she should try writing a novel instead - just writing a bit each week, to see where it would go. She took me at my word, and so Keeper's began.

As you would probably anticipate from the way in which it came about, the novel is very much character, rather than plot-led. Justin and Clara are - or were - a happily married couple living in rural Suffolk, with young twins and a dog. But when the bank branch at which Justin is a manager closes, he is offered a promotion which entails moving to head office in London. A little doubtful at first, he rises to the challenge; after all, he has a family to support - he needs the money.

However Clara, his tall, beautiful Danish wife, is adamant that she will not move to London. Surely, she thinks, there must be another way. And so the seeds of discord are sown: gradually, as he becomes more involved with his life in London, he comes home less frequently, Clara becomes more resentful, and their marriage comes under strain.

So the story is about what happens. But it's also about the other characters who become drawn into the unfolding drama: Den, Justin's reprobate father, who becomes an unlikely support for Clara; Phil, from whom Justin buys a narrowboat; Ling, Justin's Chinese colleague, and Linda, Ling's gorgeous sister. Margaret read  from it each week - it was rather like having our own private version of the Archers, only without the farming. We became quite partisan: the majority of the group thought Justin was in the right, and Clara should have upped sticks and joined him in London, whereas I was firmly in the Clara camp. She's an interesting, quite enigmatic character, Clara: cool, self-contained, yet rather sad, she seems oblivious of the effect her looks have on those around her. I liked Ling, too: thoughtful, observant, sensitive.

Margaret with her other great loves - her garden and her dog, Coco. The garden is quite small but is an absolute gem - until recently, she used to open it for charity.

Anyway, eventually the book was finished. Now, what I haven't mentioned so far is that Margaret is eighty. You wouldn't think it: she's full of energy and ebullience and she certainly doesn't look it. But when it came to exploring options for publication, she was very clear that she didn't feel she had time to take the slow route - the one that involves sending your book off to publisher after publisher, and smiling bravely as the rejections pile up - until one day, if you're very very lucky, someone finally says yes, and then, at least a couple of years later, your book emerges, blinking, into the world. So she was looking at independent publishing.

I took soundings among fellow authors, and the name that kept coming up as a reliable alternative to traditional publishing was Silverwood. So Margaret rang them, liked what she heard, sent off the story, chewed her fingers and waited.

They liked it! And so, in a few short months, Margaret has undergone rigorous editing - from which, she says, she learnt an enormous amount. She's got to grips with social media and with marketing - particularly challenging with the advent of the virus. She's bubbling with the excitement of it all; the thrill of having her book in her hands, her first Amazon review, promises of articles in local magazines etc etc. No mean feat at eighty.

I am so pleased for her. She's put in a huge amount of work, she writes beautifully, and I hope she sells loads of copies. 

But I do also want to shine a spotlight on all those in the group who do not seek to be published, but whose writing has touched us, amused us, made us laugh, or - perhaps the ultimate accolade - made us fall silent for a few moments, because it has moved us. 

But this is Margaret's moment - and here is her book!


Joan Lennon said...

Three cheers for your writing class, teacher and students alike!

Susan Price said...

Seconding that.

Penny Dolan said...

Congratulations to Margaret and to all your writing group for their efforts - and how great that they have such an excellent and encouraging tutor.

Lynne Benton said...

Well done, Margaret - and well done Sue for your encouragement! She must be so delighted!

Rowena House said...

What an uplifting post! Please pass on massive congratulations to Margaret. Your writing group sounds a very sane, supportive & worthwhile enterprise.

Rowena House said...

I've just bought it! Will snuggle down with it tonight as a change from research for WIP.

Sue Purkiss said...

Thanks all - Rowena, hope you enjoy it!

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Old amateur gardener said...

Wow, thank you Sue - that's me! I'm so grateful for your constant encouragement, and for the interest the group have shown throughout, in spite of the fact that I was, more or less writing about the same people, whereas everyone else was coming up with new subjects. Anyway, it's done, and I've started a follow-up, which is cause for optimism!