So tonight I put myself way out of my comfort zone. I took Haunted Coast out to be prodded and criticised in public – or at least in front of the twenty-five or so members of my creative writing group.
It’s hard work doing that! For one thing I hate reading aloud, I forget to breathe and I talk at about 100 miles per hour. And I’m sure I blush. And I just feel like a bumbling incompetent generally, in front of people who are much better writers than me, who have actually, you know, won competitions and had work published.
But I did it. Because I remember when hitting publish on a blog post used to make me feel similarly exposed, and now I churn out two or three a day, so I know that reading aloud to a writers’ group is only going to get easier. And some of the feedback felt a bit brutal, if I’m honest, but that’s what I need if I’m going to get better. And even the brutal bits were fair enough. I’ve written Haunted Coast in bite-size chunks, 280 characters a time. Which means that it’s easy to repeat a word or phrase without noticing. And when you string it all together (as I did tonight, printing out the first 700 words or so as one continuous piece) you can tell it doesn’t flow. “It’s a bit staccato” mused one person. “Maybe try some… paragraphs?” suggested someone else. Ouch.
And then there’s that old chestnut, you can’t please all of the people… for everyone who said “classic ghost story trope” there was someone else who said “cliché”. I’ll hold my hand up: I wanted to write a conventional mystery story with a protagonist running away from something, a haunted house and some unfriendly locals in a creepy small town, just to see if I could do it. There’s no subversive turning the genre on its head to look forward to at the end of Haunted Coast. I’m practising my scales before I compose a melody, learning to sketch a landscape with a vanishing point before I move onto abstract pieces in mixed media. Once I’ve mastered this, the definitive 21st century feminist novel is a step closer. Honest guv.
On the whole, I’m overwhelmed but buzzing from tonight’s feedback. Pretty much everyone said something positive: suspense, some good descriptions, intrigue… and the stand out comment (which in a bit of shameless own-trumpet blowing I’ve taken for my headline) from someone whose writing is so good I’m quietly in awe of him. MR James with a likeable main character? I’ll settle for that.