My first venture into creative writing was almost twenty years ago. I plucked up courage and joined a creative writing workshop group run by a gentle poet in the back room of a local bookstore. The regular participants were eclectic; a scary South African lady who claimed to know everything about poetry; a little man who lived with his sister and wrote very witty rhymes; an elderly man with fierce eyebrows who only wrote John Buchan fan fiction; and a thirty something lad, (I can’t remember his name so I’ll call him Sam), who claimed to be the only proper writer in the room.
Sam would often bring a bottle of Pernod into the workshops to sip until he became insultingly drunk. Presumably Sam believed this was a substitute for Absinthe, a drink some writers used to spark their creativity. Each week Sam read out his mysterious prose with contempt because the rest of us couldn’t understand it. At the time I believed my inability to understand his prose was my failing because I wasn’t a proper writer. When quizzed about his successes he would sneer and remain aloof. I began to become suspicious of Sam’s writing prowess when he announced he would be absent for a while due to a forthcoming holiday.
‘How wonderful,’ I said. ‘Holidays are when I do most writing.’ I worked full time. ‘I’m sure you’ll get lots of inspiration and write loads.’
He looked at me in horror. ‘I won’t be writing. I’m a writer and I’m taking a holiday.’
While he was away there was a noticeable lightening in the room. I relaxed when trying to comment on the other writers’ work and felt more comfortable reading my own work out loud. I don’t know if the tutor noticed the difference or if someone complained but when Sam returned and read out his incomprehensible drivel before daring us to comment, the tutor signed and said.
‘I have no idea what your work is about and what you are trying to tell us.’ He may even have used the words ‘incomprehensible drivel’.
Sam stormed out of the room and was never seen nor heard of again. But I never forgot his resolve that writers don’t write on holiday. I found it unbelievable then and still do now that I am a published writer.
I have just returned from a six week trip in France. It wasn’t a research trip and it wasn’t a residency. This was a holiday where I toured in my campervan, climbed hills, cycled, socialised and ate too many baguettes (and drank a few Pernods). While I was away I wrote every day. I wrote fiction, I wrote my travel journal and I compiled lists of ideas to work on when I returned.
I write long hand on holiday, which is a joy in itself, so before each trip I find some pretty notebooks and funky coloured pens. This year the trip was longer and I filled the two notebooks and drained the pens I’d packed in the first three weeks. New supplies were bought from Super U and I was back in business. I don’t know what other writers do but I cannot imagine a holiday without writing.
I often think of Sam and wonder if he ever got over his idea of what a writer should be and actually became a writer.