What’s helped my writing

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This could be anywhere in the Caribbean, but it’s just New Orleans, a city I like a lot. 

I’ve been writing creatively since I was a kid and a teenager, supported by some amazing teachers in high school in Texas, such as Mrs Racine, who lent me books like Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and and Mrs Roberts who helped me make the leap to New York with a scholarship.

After that, I was lucky enough to study fiction writing with Southern novelist and writer Susan Thames at Sarah Lawrence College (1996-97), who was a teacher, mentor and friend. Susan encouraged me to think more widely about what I wanted to do with my life – including making the decision to leave America and live in Europe – and how I could approach being a professional writer.

My don (advisor) throughout my Sarah Lawrence days was former Dean and Literature Professor Ilja Wachs, who was pretty remarkable character. He cared about my intellectual and emotional well-being as a donee, as much as he cared about talking about Stendhal or Tolstoy with me as his student.

Since my student days, I’ve learned more about writing, editing and craft through my writing groups than any class or working.

The longest standing one was the Brighton Writing Group. It formed in 2004 or 2005 by a friend of a friend. We met once a month in a pub for about 7 years. Several book deals and publications, a literary night, and many drunken arguments were born or ensued as a result of that group. Tim Lay, Ed Siegle, Derek Parkinson, Steve Silverwood, Rob Smith, John Quinn, Adam Whitehall, Tara Hanks, Jeanette Fowler, and a few others who drifted in and out until we skidded to a halt. 

Around 2011-13, I was also part of a Black women’s writing group called Write Meet Read. Facilitated by Akila Richards, we used to gather in each other’s homes – kitchens, living rooms, and possibly even once my caravan – to share and discuss writing and also to express feelings about the challenges and complexities of being female POC. One book was born from this, Ink On My Lips. Akila, Olufemi, the late Irene Mensah, Jenny Abura Gwyneth Wint, Sindi Gordon. 

The past few years have been a bit sparse, it’s been more one-on-one writing dates. Then in 2017 I set up Eastbourne Write Club with fellow writer and book editor Justine Taylor. “A bit like Fight Club” I would tell people – it’s not. We meet over a weekend once a month, and we just get on with our own writing. It’s drawn out some lovely people, all new to me. DIY no frills, I organise it voluntarily as an act of love. A satellite bunch of about 20 writers to date and growing.

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