As a connoisseur of courses, here’s a directory of the type of people you will meet if you sign up for a series of evenings, or an inspirational weekend.
She writes now the children are at school, or ideally have buggered off to university. She fits writing between school runs, food shopping, house cleaning, cooking, and dutiful love-making. Her one aim is to validate her life by achieving something. She is galled at her husband’s expense account lifestyle and important sounding lunches, and longs for something to show what she’s worth. That means one thing – publication. Bookwife wants to learn as much about the craft of writing as she can, as quickly as possible, and then churn out something publishable.
Output: she’s on her third unpublished novel.
Spends most of the course: frowning, and the breaks phoning in to check that the kids are alright.
She’s a girl on the town complete with glossy shoes and glossy hair. Writing is what she always wanted to do; it’s why she read Eng Lit (at Oxford, of course). She’s doing a job that she calls “dullsville” as an assistant to some big knob in advertising. The job's not important, just a way to earn a little pocket money, but somehow that, and keeping up with hundreds of friends, leaves little time to write. The party last weekend was such a hoot, she could hardly miss it. Her output of text messages betters the word count of most authors.
Output: she hasn’t a novel on the go and might never finish one, but if she does it will be an instant best seller.
Spends most of the course: giggling with the other Lit-chick sitting next to her.
Each day he wears the same pair of scuffed leather jeans and the black tee shirt. To acknowledge his late arrival on the second morning, he grunts in the direction of the course tutor and then explains how he drank a whole bottle of whisky last night in some dodgy club in Brixton. When he learns that you don’t worship Bukowski, he sneers. Whenever one of the other writers reads their work aloud for criticism you can see him scratching his stubble and raising his eyebrows in feedback. His own idea, still in concept form, is for a novel about an altered political state based on a cult of violent sex.
Output: he’s got too much of a hangover to write today.
Spends most of the course: eyeing the Lit-chick.
He’s been writing, on and off, for sixty years. Now retired from his job as an Educational Realignment Counsellor and Coordinator with Brent Council, he’s free to do so full time. He generously offers willing advice based on his vast experience to all, including the course tutor. He also shares from his life experience without reserve, in detailed anecdotes for the benefit of the whole class.
Output: Over three hundred “poems”, some published in the Brent libraries annual. Collection upon collection of short stories including a volume he had printed himself in 1967 which he’d love you to take a look at, if it's not too much of an imposition. A novel he’s been working on for five years, set against the background of the Boer wars, now standing at two hundred thousand words.
Spends most of the course: comparing his own narrative style to the great English diarists.
Her parents escaped from some war-torn hell-hole ten years ago. She reads from her work with a bowed head in a voice barely audible. Her words seep onto the walls and are splattered on the ceiling in a way that changes the whole atmosphere in the room. When she finishes, silence grips every throat as we absorb the horrors that have just been related. Finally, the tutor calls for a break. In the break, Gramps and The Bookfly can be heard agreeing that she can’t write.
Output: the book is nearly finished and she has an offer from a publisher.
Spends most of the course: taking feverish notes, staring at the page, avoiding eye contact.
The Gossamer Strand (can be male or female, or some combination of the two).
As thin as a sheet of paper. When Gossamer reads there is silence too: an awed appreciation of the poetic nature of the work. There’s a wispy translucent quality to the prose as she reads in a stumbling voice. In the breaks, when Lit-chick or Bookwife try to befriend him, he shies away, says he'll stay in the room, finish the exercise the tutor set. He doesn’t turn up on the last day of the course.
Output: carries a binder stuffed with manuscript pages, but it’s nothing worth mentioning, ‘Just an early draft’.
Spends most of the course: saying that she’s no good.
All of the above characters are entirely fictional and any resemblance to members of my writing circle is entirely accidental.