‘So why did you move to Somerset?’ a friendly woman asked over a glass of red wine at the charity ‘do’ to which I’d been invited. ‘Quality of life.’ She answered her own question. It’s not what I was about to say at all, being on the verge of a tedious explanation of the needs of stepchildren and adult responsibilities. I was quite satisfied with my quality of life in Brighton, thank you very much. There may have been financial struggles (that’s no news these days) and a balcony instead of a garden, but there were friends, and groups and organisations that constituted the fabric of my life. I was surrounded by writers and actors and artists of all sorts who fed my creative soul. I could go to any number of theatres, shows and workshops drawing on all the right influences to pursue my dream of becoming a writer.
I prayed that I would be able to continue that dream in the Somerset countryside. Now married, with my very own study and nothing to distract me from my writing, I could get on with it, finish the novel, do big things. I started projects willingly enough, but without the bouncing conversations I usually had with my friends and ‘colleagues’, it was hard to stay motivated.
The answer was to do a tour of all the theatres and performance spaces in a twenty mile radius, everything from full scale playhouses to village halls. One of these stops was the Bridgwater Arts Centre- the oldest in the country. At a strange little concert, I got talking to another woman and a mention of writing was made. ‘Then you must come to our writing group.’ A start. The group meet every couple of months and write to a theme, sharing their work. It’s very sociable and a lot of fun, but I needed more. One of the group who has more serious designs for her writing invited me to join another group where we all contribute funds to engage a tutor. Everyone in the room is working on a project that matters to them. Now there were people to share ideas with and to whom pieces can be read and feedback received. Progress.
I still wanted more. I wanted to access the creative community and didn’t really know how. So on my next jaunt to Brighton I arranged to meet Chris Taylor to pick her brains. Over tea and strawberries in the park we talked about the different ways people get started and organisations grow. The idea was not to wait for an opportunity to arise within a ‘structure’, but to create a space of one’s own by sneaking in the back way, so to speak. With plenty of time to ruminate on my drive home again, I came up with a plan: I would approach the director of the Arts Centre and offer to be their ‘Writer in Residence’ on a set day every week. It took me another five months to muster the courage to do it.
On the morning of the appointment I felt inadequate and almost cancelled. I’m not published, except for a factual article in an online magazine. I had no proof of skill or talent beyond the Arts Council funded one woman show I wrote and performed. I was a sham and about to embarrass myself terribly! (I certainly have no problems with my imagination!)
Well, guess where I am as I write this? Indeed. Charlie Dearden, the director of the Arts Centre was delighted with my proposal. She also wanted to know what other projects I might have in mind. Since last January I have been in attendance at the Centre every Thursday as Writer in Residence. I work on whichever piece is foremost in my mind and read and discuss what I’m doing with whoever is around during the day. It is great motivation for me. in April I presented a performed reading of one of my short stories at a Fringe event. My one-woman show went on in September.
In December I took a leap of faith when the BritWriters Publishing Programme came up. I was fed up with the silence of the slush pile and felt it was time to take matters into new hands. Now I feel like I'm on a behind-the scenes tour of the publishing world and the information is enlightening. I am very excited about where this all will lead and I have the motivation and self-belief to be on my next novel.
In the Bridgwater Arts Centre there is now a little Sinéad-shaped space. In the world of cyber-media, there is a growing Sinead shaped space and I'm hoping by the end of the year, there'll be a novel shaped space on the bookshelves of the shops.
So don't waste your energy on resentment and frustration and get out and make your space. And if you want my advice, get someone amazing behind you, like the BritWriters.
Have a good look at where you live…a creative space may offer so much more than a desk and a warm room! You might just be able to create your future.