Driven by long-burning feelings of guilt, I finally surrendered to the inevitable and volunteered to do the blog. But what to do? What could I possibly put here?
I decided it was time to lay out some reflections from a not-terribly-new-anymore member of VRWG, and consider what the group means to me and how it’s affected my approach to writing. I’m not sure how long I’ve been a member, but I dimly recall two summer parties and (through the alcohol fog) two Christmas binges. Long enough, then, to be trusted with the sacred duties attendant on being the Hot Drinks Monitor™, but not long enough to have penetrated all the group’s mysteries (such as how Bob remembers everybody’s name, or how Bill never gets a round in despite having access to the VRWG riches).
I have always been a writer for as long as I can remember, but before joining VWRG it was a strictly solo endeavour. Fiction was like philately or masturbation: a shameful, secretive hobby to be practiced in the dark isolation of your mother’s basement. I cast around for a group while I lived up North, but despite rumours of such a collective in the promised lands across the wastes (to wit, Sunderland), I never did find one. I would work through all my daylight hours, retreating at night to the darkness of my study like a degenerate carrion-eater, chewing on my fiction like strips of old meat.
I wrote my first novel when I was fifteen, convinced that I was writing a classic that would be studied for centuries to come (the fact that it featured a samurai sword-wielding nun should have been a clue to me that I hadn’t written our generation’s Mill on the Floss).
My second novel was quite different. This time the nun had a machinegun.
I consider these juvenilia to be my ‘Dan Brown’ period. They exist now only on a single CD, which I occasionally dig out to remind myself that no matter how dissatisfied I might be with something I’ve just written, at least I haven’t plumbed the dreaded depths of the departure-lounge-paperback.
Then there’s poetry. I’ve written poems for far longer than I’ve written stories. Scratch some of the dull tarnish off my soul, and you’ll see it’s a poet under there. I’m a poet who just so happens to write stories every now and then.
Suffice it to say, I think my journey to being a tolerable poet has been a long one. I had my Wordsworth phase. Oh god, did I have my Wordsworth phase. For a time, every bloody poem was full of sunshine and flowers, banging on about how jolly wonderful Dame Nature and Her Ways were, and how nice it would be if everyone was just happy and content in the world. Then I had my T S Eliot phase, and banged on incessantly about how wonderful death and despair were, and how everyone should be unhappy and miserable all the time.
I like to think I now strike something of a middle ground.
So what has been the effect, then, of VRWG on my wildly fluctuating and occasionally short-circuiting muse?
Well, mainly, I now give many of my stories and poems titles in foreign languages, mostly to torment Marian.
But also, my output has skyrocketed. I feel like I need to produce something each month. Somehow, it has become the thing that validates me as a writer. The warm reception, the constructive feedback, the camaraderie – they’ve served to drag my secretive habit into the light of day, and to my surprise it has grown rather than perished by the exposure.
It is thanks to the prodding and encouragement of the members of VRWG that I am now a published writer (and yes, I am going to milk that one professional publication for all it’s damn well worth). It is thanks to VRWG that the prospect of an open mic and an expectant audience don’t terrify me quite as much as they used to.
It is thanks to the wonderful community of VRWG that, for the first time, I’m comfortable in describing myself as a ‘writer’.
George Orwell once wrote that nobody writes because they want to, they write because some terrible inner demon drives them to it. This is quite true, but now at least the terrible demon that tortures me has, in VRWG, acquired some much more wholesome, friendly and supportive inquisitors.
Long may their reign of terror loom over me.