Greenacre Guest Blog by Bettina von Cossel I’d like to thank all those who generously sponsored my abseiling in aid of the Finchley Literary Festival. I’m really pleased about the outcome. All in all I raised £340.
Liz Goes, a fellow Greenacre writer, had promised good-looking hunks on top of the tower to strap me on securely, and she didn't promise too much. Hercules and Brad Pitt roped and hooked me up with the utmost care; my husband couldn't have done it any better. Still, I found the event extremely stressful because I’m scared of heights, and the moment when I had to climb over the edge of that tower and let go, was one of the worst in my life. I was so terrified I felt sick. I can’t even tell you how relieved I was when I arrived back on firm ground. The security men from the Harlow Tye Rotary Club, who'd organised the event, helped me out of the abseiling gear, all looking at my bottom, strangely enough. It turned out that my husband had involved them into a vivid discussion whether my bum looked big from below. Of all the topics in the world… A man’s soul will always stay a mystery to me.
Thanks again so much for supporting me, and enjoy the Finchley Literary Festival.
Bettina von Cossel will be giving the following talk at The Finchley Literary Festival:
Many years ago I had an article published entitled “The Hollywood Writer and I” in which I took issue with that formulaic filmic portrayal of writers as shambling, alcoholic womanisers desperately trying to replicate a past glory (basically: the received popular image of Dylan Thomas). The truth about the writing life is far less glamorous / clichéd / easy to pigeonhole. Many writers that I know live a hand to mouth existence from one commission or sale to the next; and such a lifestyle precludes as a financial impossibility the notion of quaffing a bottle of Jim Beam every night to send one into dreamland. Most writers, even quite successful ones, have some other employment that offers a reasonably steady income – teaching, lecturing, copy-editing, librarianship, taking paid reviewing gigs for “The Guardian”, whatever.
These days the public stereotype of a writer is probably J. K. Rowling. Rich, courted by Hollywood, her tweets eagerly consumed by fans, even lower standard fare that she initially publishes under an assumed name sells by the bucket load. Photogenic and with something of an airbrushed rags to riches back story, she’s become the poster girl for the “I Want To Be A Writer” dream. Trouble is: the writing community is an iceberg: Rowling is its visible tip twinkling in the Edinburgh sunshine and the LA starlight; the rest of us are the submerged part trying not to drown.
As well as writing, many years ago I turned to editing also. When I responded to submissions, I started giving a short critique of what worked or didn’t work in the story. People thanked me for my notes – which were mostly intended to aid my thinking. As well as this, I dipped my toes into running writing workshops, aiming to pass on some of my hard-won experience and knowledge to aspiring authors. With a background in teaching and the encouragement of those close to me as well as those I’d helped along the way, I took the plunge a couple of years ago and became a full-time writer and tutor. My situation wasn’t quite as I’d envisaged it when I was 13 or 14 wanting to be the next J. G. Ballard. As a short story specialist, I know I’m never going to make millions. I take some other work a couple of days a week in order to stay afloat.
But I love tutoring and believe I have a natural talent for it. Like a proud parent, I’ve been able to guide several people towards their first ever publications or competition successes. Others have had their faltering publication record revitalised. In some ways, I’m offering something that I would have found immensely useful when I was a novice writer myself many years ago.
I haven’t uncovered the next Dan Brown or Martina Cole and don’t necessarily expect to do so. The supernovas are very far beyond this stratosphere. But even if people don’t graduate straight from my classes to the top of “The Sunday Times” bestseller list, they will have improved as a writer and will have a deeper understanding of how the business actually works.
If I had a pound for everybody who’s come up to me and said, “I want to be a writer, how do I go about getting published?” or “I’ve written a book, can you tell me how to get it published?” then I could probably retire several years early. Oh if only it were that simple. At this point I have to diplomatically inform them that such success, if one ever achieves it, is usually preceded by years of hard slog; and maybe before you start expecting Bloomsbury or Penguin to chuck a contract your way, it might be best to start with smaller, more realistically achievable ambitions for the moment. That’s where I come in. Of course, the question should be: “How do I go about improving my writing?” or “How do I become a better writer so that I’ve got more chance of being published?”
Remember: JKR is the dream; the myth, even. And she did it by hard work and application. So, if you fancy a bit of hard work – and fun! – come along to my workshop at North Finchley Library at 4pm on Friday 30 May. It’s free at the point of delivery. My slogan is: “You will be writing within five minutes.” You may even discover the Shakespeare or Emily Bronte inside you!
As part of the Finchley Literary Festival, Allen Ashley, as well as running the above workshop will be hosting the “Spoken Word Showcase”. Come along and hear a great range of fiction, poetry and non-fiction from Festival writers and local authors.Readingspots allocated on strictly first come, first served basis. Allen will also chair the Panel Discussion: Men writing as women and women writing as Men at the Main Event, Sat 31st May 2-6pm