I saw the event advertised at my local library and signed up before I could talk myself out of it. Write a short story and read it aloud to a paying audience who then vote for the winner. The prize was a share of the door’s takings for the evening. How difficult could it be? Bloody terrifying, since I hadn’t done any creative writing for about twenty five years and I’d never read anything aloud to complete strangers.
Tim and I had been working our way through Miranda July’s book, Learning to Love You More; a kind of manual for art activities that were often outside our comfort zone, and sometimes involved doing them in public. Write a press release about something ordinary you’ve done and send it to your local and national newspapers (‘Man drinks gin on sofa on a Friday evening’ surprisingly wasn’t covered by the Hampshire Chronicle or The London Times). Have a one-person protest (A ‘Less Driving! More Walking!’ demonstration in the middle of a four-line highway). Make an encouraging banner (‘Life is an Adventure’ written in 1 foot high letters hung on the fence of a pub garden).
When we’d finished all we could do (take a picture of your parents kissing wasn’t an option for either of us since both sets of parents have been divorced for years) we tried to think up some of our own: hide notes in each other’s houses; go into a haberdashers and ask for a pound of sausages. The ones I liked the best were those that made me feel uncomfortable, slightly embarrassed, and exhilarated afterwards.
The first story I wrote for the library event was poor, and I mumbled through the reading. I didn’t enjoy doing the writing; but did like editing the words on the page, the feeling of having written, and the instant feedback of my audience. These things were enough to encourage me to write another story the next month, and the next. I don’t know if anyone voted for me. I didn’t win, and I didn’t win, and I didn’t win. It took ten months until one of my stories came first. My prize was £9.87.
The fear of not knowing what I am doing and the idea that I’m lacking someone else’s authority to be allowed to write has never gone away. Writing is still an uncomfortable activity for me. But my early efforts taught me that if I keep writing through the disquiet and the angst, the results pay off.
Claire Fuller was born in Oxfordshire, England, in 1967. She gained a degree in sculpture from Winchester School of Art, but went on to have a long career in marketing and didn’t start writing until she was forty. Her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize. She has an MA in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester and lives in Hampshire, England with her husband and two children.