Fiction & Drama

Marion Todd: Making the most of the writing community


In his Nobel Prize banquet speech in 1954, the great Ernest Hemingway stated, ‘Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.’

But is this necessarily so? While it may have been the case for Mr Hemingway and his contemporaries, the advent of digital communication has led to the development and growth of a network that has become known as the writing community.

My first encounter with this happy band was in September 2015 when I tentatively booked myself into a writing masterclass at the Scottish crime writing festival Bloody Scotland.

The day-long event was opened by award winning author Denise Mina who, in her keynote address, reminded attendees that books did not write themselves. She exhorted us (in the strongest possible terms) to sit down and write our novels!

I left Bloody Scotland newly inspired and began developing what was to become my first crime novel. Some months later I attended an event hosted by the University of Dundee and it was this which truly set me on the path to publication.

In addition to presentations from industry professionals, three graduates from the university’s MLitt in Creative Writing spoke about their craft and, when the interval came, I sought them out. They were happy to chat and I was taken aback when one of them volunteered to read the first three chapters of my novel. The feedback she later gave helped me tailor my work to give it commercial appeal, leading ultimately to a publishing contract. Three books on, I still recall how generous that writer was with her time and talents.

There was a friendliness here which I came to realise was entirely typical of the writing community. Was it possible I could become one of their number?

I joined the Crime Fiction Reading Group at my local branch of Waterstones and, as I sat in the corner of the bookstore each month, listening to authors discussing their novels with the group members, I could be forgiven for thinking I had died and gone to heaven. More than that, I had a ringside seat at monthly exchanges between authors and readers which taught me so much about what made a successful novel. It was a wonderful opportunity for any writer and I mined it shamelessly.

I attended promotional events where authors spoke about their writing, and gradually I began to feel part of the crime writing community. I engaged with others on Twitter, using the hashtag #WritingCommunity. I followed agents and publishers, learning more from their tweets than from hours spent leafing through the pages of the Writers and Artists Yearbook.

I discovered the crime writer Will Dean and found my way to his YouTube channel: Will Dean – Forest Author. His videos on every aspect of the publishing process were highly entertaining and full of invaluable advice.

And there was more. Editors who were too busy to undertake paid editing work would happily chat by phone or email, giving their advice freely, while fellow writers offered face-to-face support. I happened to Tweet one day that I was interested in Scrivener software. A few days later I was sitting in a café next to a writer I had not previously met, watching as she demonstrated how she used the program on her laptop. Where else, I wonder, would the people with whom you are in direct competition bend over backwards to give you a leg up?

The writing community is there for writers in every genre and its reach is worldwide. There is help and advice for all stages of the writing process and a sense of inclusiveness for even the most timid aspiring author.

But it is down to you, the writer, to seek it out. The reality is that no one will come knocking on your door, inviting you to write and submit a novel. No one will send you tickets to literary events or even tell you they are happening. You have to take a proactive approach. Find the events, find the book clubs and find your way to Twitter and Instagram. And, when you do, you will find a warm and welcoming community which, contrary to Mr Hemingway’s words, truly enriches and enhances the life and work of all who embrace it.

Marion Todd is s crime writer and author of the DI Clare Mackay series, published by Canelo.

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