Jane Austin

Author of Renegade and News From Nowhere

I’ve decided to publish my Newsletters / Blog every two months from April/May, carving out more time for writing.

In March I was on the move, first to Scotland and then to York. I went with friends to Gatehouse of Fleet in Dumfries and Galloway in southern Scotland where we had a few days of gloriously sunny weather. It’s an area which is off the tourist trail with rolling green landscapes and majestic seascapes where I inhaled deeply, cleansing my lungs of the thick London air.

Among the highlights of the trip was a visit to Wigtown, known as Scotland’s National Booktown, packed with independent bookshops and a haven for book lovers. The Book Shop was the first to be established by Shaun Bythell, fifty years ago. Confessions of a Bookseller is a wry and amusing accounts of life in his trade. On the second fine day (feeling rather smug as rain battered the rest of the country) we headed for Kirkudbright, the artists’ town, full of galleries and teashops with a picturesque harbour. In a high window of the battlements, stood the figure of Rapunzel with a thick coil of rope hair tumbling down over the ancient walls!

My trip to York was for a writing event in East Cottingham in the East Riding. The venue was a spanking new community hall on the edge of the pretty village and the occasion was organised by poet and memoir writer, Yvie Holder. Yvie, Janet Dean and I form the Encore Careers trio and appear at events together. Janet, a poet and author, ran a writing workshop in the morning, stimulated by family photos that people brought along, as well as short pieces of Janet’s own work. We sat in small groups writing in silence in the light-filled room and the birds sang through the open windows. Participants quite new to writing began to find their voice and some were brave enough to share snippets from their family stories. It took me back to my own first tentative steps and the sheer joy of words unfurling across the page.

‘Three Writers in Conversation’ was the afternoon spot, with Yvie, Janet and I talking about Fact, Fiction and Identity. Our work often explores ordinary lives against a backdrop of momentous global events, through poetry, fiction and memoir. When asked what we meant by an Encore Career, Janet explained that writing in later-life can mean anything from publishing success to a new lease of life and opportunity for self-development. Meeting others on the same journey that weekend was inspiring to us all, whatever our previous writing experience. The day ended with a delicious cream tea while people bought our books from the display. Thanks to local funding, we were able to run the day free of charge, and we hope to run more such events in rural communities in Yorkshire.


What I’ve been Reading


I’ve just finished Jeremy Worman’s, The Way to Hornsey Rise (Holland Park Press), an autobiographical novel. It’s a moving memoir of a boy’s journey into adulthood, shaped by a childhood of cruelty and abuse, hidden behind the closed doors of upper-class privilege and respectability. ‘The central theme of the book is Jeremy’s need to escape from the intense relationship with his alcoholic, charismatic and mentally unstable mother, her lovers, his ageing, ailing father, and about his own romantic relationships.’ Jeremy vividly evokes life in the 60s and 70s and his rebellion against his background. Turning his back on the suburbs of Surrey, he goes to the wilds of Hornsey Rise, the largest squat in Europe, where we see him engage with a very different reality as he struggles to find his place in the world. I thoroughly enjoyed Jeremy’s lively engaging style and the way he writes with unsentimental honesty about his upbringing and coming of age. https://www.hollandparkpress.co.uk/books/the-way-to-hornsey-rise


Tips for Writers


I have rediscovered Dorothea Brande’s slim elegant volume, Becoming a Writer, first published in 1934. She opens with, ‘There is a sort of writer’s magic…a procedure which many an author has come upon by happy accident or has worked out for himself which can, in part, be taught.’

So far so good. She then addresses ‘The Four Difficulties’: The Difficulty of Writing at all, the One Book Author, The Occasional Writer and the Uneven Writer. We can all identify ourselves somewhere amongst them. What she confronts is the question of what it means to be a writer, rather than how to write. She talks about cultivating a ‘writer’s temperament’ and digs deep into the psychology of the writing endeavour. She asserts that there are two sides to the character of a writer, one as an adult and the other as a child. ‘He must work continually with and through the emotional and childlike side, or we have no work of art.’ The writer’s first task is to bring the two elements of his nature into balance, the child and the adult, to combine these aspects into one integrated character.

And she provides exercises to this end. Brande examines how to harness the unconscious while underlining the discipline and commitment that writing requires. Tempted? You won’t go far wrong with this little gem of a book about the psychology of becoming a writer.