‘Write about a time when you had to make your voice heard.’ That was the brief. The project was 100 Voices, a collection of pieces by women writers, to mark the anniversary of women getting the vote.
It was the kind of exercise I often set for students, but I’ve never done myself. I try to avoid putting myself on the page – I’d rather write about my characters.
But the project was intriguing. And a story immediately popped into my head, and wouldn’t let go.
A few years ago, I’d just finished my Creative Writing MA at the University of Chichester and was waiting for the results. I’d loved the course, and felt I’d started to find my writing voice. Then, just before the results came out, our son was terribly ill. The two events collided with each other in a way that nothing in my life has, before or since. I found myself having to speak up for him, too.
Reliving the events was hard. Would anyone even be interested? Was it fair to write about our son? I finished it, and sent it off with trepidation. Was I revealing too much? It was more personal than anything I’d ever written. Our editor, Miranda Roszkowski, liked it. Wonderfully, readers have responded to the emotion of the piece.
‘Did it really happen like that?’ I was asked more than once. But yes, it did. If I’d made it up, it wouldn’t have worked. The reader would have known that the emotion was fake. Even now, reading the piece can make me cry.
As George Saunders says, in his brilliant A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: ‘A work of art moves us by being honest, and that honesty is apparent in its language and its form and in its resistance to concealment.’
Reading the published story reminded me that writing convincingly isn’t about what you know – it’s about what you know how to feel.
Along with other inspirational and funny and moving contributions, my effort is part of a brilliant book that’s a testament to one woman’s persistence and many women’s courage. All profits go to the charity Rosa, the UK fund for women and girls. I hope you’re intrigued enough to buy a copy – and I hope you enjoy it.