Author Isabel Ashdown on writing risks that paid off
Some years ago, I gave up my career – rashly, some said – to study English and Creative Writing as a mature student. I can’t tell you exactly why I had the idea I could write; I’d been a disengaged 1980s teenager who’d left school with little except for an ace typing speed, a curious imagination and an appetite for reading anything not on the syllabus.
Start with writing competitions
At the University of Chichester, I found sanctuary – a place where I could share my ideas with others who perhaps felt just as exposed as I did; where I could take risks with my writing, and essentially ‘find my voice’. There, I received a valuable piece of advice from a favourite tutor, who told me: if you have hopes of getting published – of standing out in the big intimidating world of agents and publishers and slush-piles and rejection – you must work hard to build a track record. Start with writing competitions, he said. Simple.
Nervous and self-conscious
When it came to ‘going public’ with my writing, I felt nervous and self-conscious, fraudulent even. I mean, who did I think I was? Me? A writer? Ha! But with a growing collection of poetry and fiction curling at the edge of my desk, I was running out of excuses to remain underground, so I gathered strength and began to mail out submissions. And then I waited … and waited. As prize announcements came and went, my skin felt thinner, my ambition more foolish, and for a while I wondered whether I might be, in fact, unpublishable.
A call from The Bridport Prize
But gradually, my resilience grew, and the task of rewriting and resubmitting soon just became part of my work pattern. Then, in 2006, I received a call from The Bridport Prize, telling me that I had been shortlisted in their poetry category. I was jubilant; someone else believed in my writing! I’ll never forget the award ceremony in the Bridport Arts Centre, and the warm sense of not just accomplishment that I felt, but also hope. Winning the award was the push I needed to propel me towards finishing my debut, and within a couple of years, I had an agent, a publisher, and a novel on the shelves of bookshops and libraries across the land.
Release your words!
Putting yourself out there is not easy, but I hope to encourage all you ‘underground’ writers with work languishing in your bottom drawers to take courage – and release your words!
More about Isabel
Isabel Ashdown now spends much of her year writing and walking in West Dorset. She is a Royal Literary Fund mentor, and the author of eight acclaimed novels. She graduated with distinction from the MA in Creative Writing at University of Chichester, has taught and appeared at various festivals and institutes over the years, and her essay on voice can be found in Writing a First Novel by Karen Stevens (Palgrave MacMillan). Her ninth novel (out later this year) is a thriller set on the edge of a Dorset town not unlike Bridport…