Sarah Jeffery joined us at book club a few months ago. She’s always loved reading but took the plunge a few years ago to try her hand at writing. She talks to us today about her writing journey, and the support that helped her get published.
I’ve always been an avid reader and could quite easily spend hours curled up on the sofa with a good book. I never thought I could write my own. But I did.
Two years ago I wrote a first draft of a psychological thriller set in Newcastle thanks to Urban Writers’ Retreat’s first Six Month Novel Programme. It was no mean feat as all I started with (along with nine other aspiring writers) was a one-page plot outline. By following the course, which included a month-long planning process, four months of writing and a month-long editing process, I wrote my first ever novel – a grand total of 95,000 words.
It was a huge achievement and one I’m immensely proud of as prior to getting involved with Urban Writers’ Retreat I hadn’t written creatively since leaving school. Even though I studied English Literature at university and taught Adult Literacy for five years, I never thought I would be able to write a novel. Then, I joined The Writer’s Playground and it gave me the confidence to start writing fiction.
The Writer’s Playground is a writing forum ran by Urban Writer’s Retreat – it offers online writing retreats, one-day writing retreats in London, a residential writing retreat in Devon and the Sixth Month Novel Programme.
The Playground is a very supportive writing forum for writers at all stages of their writing career from beginners to published authors. It is an online home for writers that provides some things all writers need to help them along the way: accountability, motivation, support and friendship.
I initially did a month-long online writing bootcamp, which helped me develop a daily writing habit and a regular routine. I’m definitely more of a morning person, so got up early to write before going to work and set myself weekly goals. I gradually began experimenting with free writing before moving onto short stories and then I attempted my first NaNoWriMo. I didn’t win but managed to write 35,000 words of a very bad crime novel.
This experience encouraged me to enrol on the Sixth Month Novel programme, which has been an invaluable part of my writing journey. I will always be grateful to both Charlie, who runs UWR, and editor Amie McCraken, who run the course, for their continuous support and advice. Without them and my fellow Sixth Month Novellers I would have never completed the first draft of my novel.
I celebrated completing it by entering two novel writing competitions and pitching it to a well-known author and agent at the Festival of Writing in September 2014. Looking back I can’t believe I did this as my novel is terrible – it really is. I cringe when I read it. It needs a lot of work, so much in fact I’ve actually given up. I tried writing a second draft, but only got 25,000 words in before deciding enough was enough.
Fast forward 18 months and I’ve just had my first short story published in The Writer’s Playground’s first anthology. Off Track is a collection of nine stories all based on the theme of train journeys and features a wide range of genres from fantasy to science fiction, romance to contemporary fiction.
All the proceeds from Off Track go to The Ministry of Stories, a non-profit organisation in East London dedicated to helping children and young people discover their own gift for writing. Hopefully we can help the next generation of writers find their inspiration.
To be able to say you’re a published author is still rather surreal and it has definitely inspired me to continue writing. In fact I’m about to embark on my next literary journey to write my second novel. Wish me luck!