It’s something that I will always look at and feel an immense sense of pride and joy.
I was lucky to be a part of the first GCLS Writing Academy. It was a course which introduced new friends who I will always enjoy cheering on and saw me work, once more, with my dear friend Sandra on La Vie en Bleu.
Cheryl accepted an award on her behalf at the GCLS awards night and said, “go out and buy yourself the brightest set of sneakers and raise that bar.”
What better way to celebrate a friendship than to get involved with the GCLS Writing Academy and mentoring program. In theory, it was a great idea, but in reality? I knew I had plenty to share from all the wonderful teachers I’ve learned from but I didn’t think the GCLS would:
- a) Think someone with my amount of disabilities was useful enough.
- b) Think someone my age was useful enough.
- c) Think I could be a part of it from halfway across the world.
But, I swear Sandra was heckling me, so I emailed offering my help. Okay, I’d mentored before but they’d just say no. They would. Like they’d take a chance on me.
I got a lovely email back from Beth Burnett, Head of Education at the GCLS, and stared at it in shock. A really nice shock. I could try out with a class or two to see if I liked it.
Um… that wasn’t the response I was expecting. Okay, I’d been through the Writing Academy myself, I had a body of work behind me, sales and honours etc, but did they miss the disabled part?
I didn’t argue and started out with Narrative or Psychic Distance – My favourite tool having learned it from the best, Emma Darwin and Debi Alper. Seriously, these two brilliant women have been instrumental in teaching me all the tools I adore using in writing. I’d travel anywhere to have a class with either one of them. Actually, I’d probably travel just as far to get a hug but that’s besides the point.
I wanted to make it clear where I’d learned my subject from, its origins, and also wanted to add my take on it the way that made it clear to me. Planning the class solidified my own knowledge on the subject and drew me to study harder to work on the fine detail. Then, I was let loose on a class of fellow students who welcomed me on board, listened… and seemed to get it. Lightbulb moment. Debi and Emma gave me my own moment like that and now I was able to share that joy with someone else. Wow.
Somehow, Beth decided that she might want to inflict me on students again… this time as faculty. I wasn’t sure how to process that. When do disabled people get to be faculty? It might sound odd to most people especially if you don’t have any of those challenges but, no matter how positive a person you are, those challenges restrict you from being part of most things. I had a long conversation with Beth about how I could deliver my part of the course within my capabilities. My family were rightly cautious about me taking so much on and Beth was ready to support me wherever she could.
So, the women of class 2018 were stuck with me delivering a few classes: From setting to narrative distance to character development. I came with homework… mean, boot camp like homework, and purple moles. (You can’t train elite folks without purple moles.) I sang to them, I nagged them, I threw information from left, right and centre… and the class often fell into silence. “It’s a lot of information to take in,” Beth would say with a friendly smile. “They’ll need time to digest it.”
Then there’d be the odd email near the deadline from a student or five, “Um, Jody… you see, the thing is… I haven’t done my homework yet because… er… you’re mean and it’s hard.”
I am. Who knew that my police training came out when I taught? *cracks whip*
But, one by one, those emails changed to, “hey, Jody, um… do you think I could do this…?” or “Ooh, I think I’ve got it… can you check out my homework?”
Piece by piece, I could see it in their writing. I could see characters start to come to life, settings pop off the page, narrative distance used at will to speed and slow pace, subplots and layers intertwined. Each student, each woman, began to do special things on the page and I suddenly got why people love being teachers. It’s magical to see, emotional to go through, and wow does it make the hairs prickle when you see writing and the writer transform before your eyes. Don’t mistake that I was one of many tutors on that course, all of which had a piece to offer, but I felt part of that in a small way. I felt like I was useful again.
And Sandra was grinning at me from under her neon halo, I swear.
Then, I decided to mentor to go with the teaching and Beth said, “you sure. It’s a lot. I want to make sure you’re okay.” I told her I was happy to and, among a longer work, we had a piece to work on for Written Dreams – an anthology which would raise money so more students could have the chance to experience the GCLS WA magic.
Didn’t see this one coming, let me tell you.
Mentoring is a pretty intense experience if you’re stuck with me. Think boot camp with extra punishment. Yet, my mentee, in true easy-going Floridian style, met my demands and managed in the process to dismantle the mean sergeant exterior. I’d kick her butt to get more of her story from her and she’d have me and Em watching soccer at two am with her. I can safely say that my Floridian buddy and her family are a cherished treasure.
And, I feel a special bond with all the ladies on the WA course, my fellow classmates and Beth who, even though she probably doesn’t know it, helped me every step of the way. She talked me through things, let me argue with her, yell and mutter, laugh and smile when we got it right. She knew the rollercoaster well and was happy to guide me through it.
The WA magic struck again. It’s something that some courses, some academies, some societies have. It’s not something that can guarantee success but it is something that is vital when you work alone on something close to your heart for months. No matter whether you like a writer or not, no one can dispute the sheer determination, work ethic, insanity and hope that is ploughed into a book. No one else can write your stories for you (unless you have a ghost writer.) I could only show the tools I’d been given and hoped the students used them.
Well, I can tell you they did. I can tell you that Written Dreams is an honour to be a part of because I am story to story with some of the most awesome people I’ve worked with, learned with and tortured. I’m in a book alongside friends who know what the WA magic is. It’s a book I have immense joy and pride to be included in… hey, and If The Shoe Fits was inspired by my story The Understudy. Yep. Ella’s idea became a novella.
In celebration of the class graduating, I bought a set of neon trainers (sneakers.) I’m only popping in to share narrative distance with the next class, but I’m sharing it on the road at Ellcon to show potential students what kind of tools they can learn. I’ll also be on the stall to promote the WA… But how do you put into words what WA magic is? How do tell someone that the course will challenge you, sometimes drive you crazy, make you laugh, make you chew your nails, groan at homework, be excited that a big name is coming in to say hi, find friends, find teammates and connect with some inexplicable glue until you feel as proud of their success as you do your own?
Where else could get that? Where else would show just how bright and neon people are inside by showing a disabled person they can drop the d-word and remember they are a person after all?
Written Dreams? Yeah, I’d say that’s a perfect title.