One Sunday about this time last year, I was sat on the rail replacement bus from Winchester, elated, my head fizzing. I was making my way back from my first ever conference for children’s writers and illustrators, organised by the lovely SCBWI. Stories twined out of my mind into the November dark.
The 2017 conference has just finished, with me where I thought I’d be then. Combing my SCBWI Facebook group for conference write-ups. Peering at Tweeted snapshots to try and feel like I was there too. This year, writer Annie Walmsley has been in my lucky shoes, the Margaret Carey scholarship helping her to be there, soaking it all up. Brilliantly, so was Louisa Danquah, who won a new scholarship for BAME writers, in this far too white, middle-class female industry.
One year on, my SCBWI tribe would be entitled to say: well, so, Ruth. What have you been up to?
To which I can only say: writing. Always writing.
I have written, I have needed to write, every day, just as I have needed to breathe, to sleep, to run. But here’s the thing. My manuscripts are no less sprawling and fragmented than this time last year. I haven’t turned out a stack of fat little projects. I don’t feel any closer to my name on a dustjacket in Daunt Books.
I knew, sat on that bus, that the year ahead would need my hardest work, my best words. I just didn’t know that the hard work would look like this.
Last year, amid the shining newness I was soaking in, the friendly faces and brilliant advice, I was coming apart at the heart. You don’t need the boring details; we all have our darknesses to bear. (‘A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor,’ as one mate told me, quoting Roosevelt). But it has made me realise: when I am at a loss, I pick up my pen. Whatever else comes down, it is the last thing to fall from my hand.
This year, I’ve written short stories. A poem or two (bargle). I’ve written deeper, better ways into my eighteenth century world; replotted, made character breakthroughs, edits and redrafts. I made a new picturebook and started my next book idea. I’ve pushed some chapters into writing competitions here and there. But most of my words have been entirely beside the point. Writing which has had no use other than to keep me here: the thin biro scrawl which has sewn me back together, the looping blue thread that has pulled me up, made me follow it through the day into the next. All the days until this one: where 2017 is nearly dead and I cannot wait for a sunnier 2018. In which, at last, I’ll be able to write out into the world.
If I want to make a living by my words, it seems only right that words have to be how I go about living. And this year, that has never been truer. I write, just as I have mad hair and a spiky nose. It is part of who I am.
This bitten-lip cocoon of a year, quiet and unseen, with nothing to show the outside world: this is the year I can call myself a writer.