The Prime Writers group celebrates its first anniversary this month. Prime Writers founder and author of ‘The Ship’ Antonia Honeywell reflects on her debut experience, and how a single, plaintive tweet led to the group’s creation.
You can see the summit. You know that if you climb hard enough, you will reach it. People power ahead of you; others fall behind. (Others seem to be lifted by magic hot air balloons to a peak way above the one you’re toiling towards, but contemplating them is a sure-fire path to insanity. See also not judging the inside of your life by the outside of anyone else’s.) Finally, sweating and elated, you stand on that summit and look about for that fabled plateau where writers sit being handed free champagne surrounded by flowers and helium balloons.
Except it’s not there. There’s only another mountain, straight ahead of you; you just couldn’t see it until you reached the top of this one. You have an awful suspicion that the plateau exists – your evidence is right there, in all those cheerful tweets everyone else seems to send. But you’re not on it. And all those things that made it so hard to climb the wretched mountain in the first place – the day job, the children, the aging parent/s, the bewildered partner, the agonising self-doubt – are still there.
They’re still there.
Your book’s being published, but they’re all still there.
The later in life you’re published, the more opportunity they’ve had to grow, and the more likely your own identity is to be bound up in them. A few months after my contract for The Ship had been signed, I was preparing for Christmas, being pulled in all directions as a wife, a mother, a hostess, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a sister, a teacher, a friend, a singer and a choir leader… anything and everything but the writer I was so desperate to be. Other people who’d achieved deals at a similar time were busy going on retreats and winning residencies; I could barely get it together to write my address on an order form. I felt old and weighed down and – yes – lonely. I sent a plaintive tweet into the ether, asking whether anyone else was publishing a debut over 40.
The reaction was wonderful. I organized a lunch. We set up a private Facebook group to share our experiences. The website and Twitter feed were born. The Prime Writers became A Thing. Every member gets something different from it – for me, it’s still about the very impulse that sent that first tweet. Writing is lonely and TPW makes it less so.