Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bright Lights, Big City: Big Thanks

I will soon be on my way to the publishing Big Apple, New York City, USA. Though this will not be my first visit, this will be my first opportunity to experience this city from the point of view of a novelist (soon-to-be published). Always before, I have been a 'wannabe' writer and my experiences of writers conferences, publishers and book launches have been small scale in comparison.

Many of you will have heard of The Hay Festival held at the end of May in the village of Hay, in Wales, close to the English border. For many writers to the east of the Atlantic Ocean, The Hay Festival is the Big Apple of literary festivals. Several years ago, I had the extraordinary opportunity to attend The Hay as a fledging writer with a grant from the Arts Council of Wales. My mentor at the time was Tony Bianchi, whose faith in me as a writer I have only now begun to fully appreciate.

The one person I can categorically name as the instigator of my ambition to be a writer was my high school English teacher, Mr. Lombardi. He gave me an 'A' on an essay about John Steinbeck's The Red Pony. The essay began: Gitano was dead. That is all I can remember of this momentous event. I had never achieved an 'A' before and his comments – now lost in the miasma of scores of teachers' and lecturers' and professors' contributions and contradictions – fuelled my passion for writing.

Even so, my experience of the Hay Festival that year had ambivalent results. Although I absorbed all I could of the gentle words Leslie Norris offered in his master-class, to be in the presence of so many professional writers, publishers, booksellers, readers and agents was daunting – silencing. Even more daunting was reading the piece I had written during the master-class week in front of Tony and a handful of festival visitors.

Every experience generates its kernel of self-knowledge. Some of the younger writers were brimming with self-confidence. I wasn't one of them. Neither was I one of the sage practitioners of wordcraft. My publishing record consisted of a few short stories. I had ambitions for longer pieces but that was not to happen for a number of years and even then, I wasn't ready to put my hand in the mangle. If not for being stranded in Hay with just £10 to last the week and not wanting to disappoint my mentor, I considered walking the 55 miles home.

For Tony Bianchi and Mr. Lombardi, I have created several characters who, if they don’t directly reflect these two men in any real sense, they are tributes to the generosity of spirit each exhibited toward writers and students.

This is a tough journey without the open-hearted help of others who’ve gone before us and hold the doors open. Who are some of the writers, teachers, mentors who opened doors for you?


Sandra Leesmith said...

Morning Leigh, Thanks for sharing your journey into the published world. It is wonderful to have mentors that help us through this crazy business.

When I started writing, I heard about a writing group mentioned in a newspaper article. I went to the meeting and the only published writer in the group was Sharon Wagner who wrote many Nancy Drew stories. She mentored all fifteen of us into publication. We later became a chapter of RWA.

My mother was my biggest fan and encouraged me to write. She was the one who found the above newspaper article.

Have a great time in New York. You will love it.

Carolyn Brown said...

Congratulations on selling! And I'll see you in NYC next week! Enjoyed your post. Glad for those who've helped me through the maze!

Beate Boeker said...

A retired English teacher taught me more than I can say about grammar and style when she answered my ad for a writing pal at The Writer's Magazine. Her name is Margaret Elam. I will always be grateful to her!
Thank you for your wonderrful post, Leigh!

Leigh Verrill-Rhys said...

Thank you all for your comments and sharing your mentors with me. It's good to stop for a moment to remember how I got here.

Such a please to meet you, Carolyn. I hope you had as great a time as I did. Spotlight on Avalon had three of your books in the prize draw and I was crossing fingers and toes but they went to someone else, darn it.

Sandra, how great to meet and be mentored by someone like Sharon Wagner – a generous lady to be sure.

Beate, it is always heartwarming when people respond to a call like that.