On June 23, 2011, I published this article as a tribute to two people who were instrumental in my determination to become a writer.
I will soon be on my way to the publishing Big Apple, New York City, USA. Though this will not be my first visit, this will be my first opportunity to experience this city from the point of view of a novelist (soon-to-be published). Always before, I have been a ‘wannabe’ writer and my experiences of writers conferences, publishers and book launches have been small scale in comparison.
Many of you will have heard of The Hay Festival held at the end of May in the village of Hay, in Wales, close to the English border. For many writers to the east of the Atlantic Ocean, The Hay Festival is the Big Apple of literary festivals. Several years ago, I had the extraordinary opportunity to attend The Hay as a fledging writer with a grant from the Arts Council of Wales. My mentor at the time was Tony Bianchi, whose faith in me as a writer I have only now begun to fully appreciate.
The one person I can categorically name as the instigator of my ambition to be a writer was my high school English teacher, Mr. Lombardi. He gave me an ‘A’ on an essay about John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony. The essay began: “Gitano was dead.”
That is all I can remember of this momentous event. I had never achieved an ‘A’ before [in his class] and his comments – now lost in the miasma of scores of teachers’ and lecturers’ and professors’ contributions and contradictions – fueled my passion for writing.
Even so, my experience of the Hay Festival that year had ambivalent results. Although I absorbed all I could of the gentle words Leslie Norris offered in his master-class, to be in the presence of so many professional writers, publishers, booksellers, readers and agents was daunting – silencing. Even more daunting was reading the piece I had written during the master-class week in front of Tony and a handful of festival visitors.
Every experience generates its kernel of self-knowledge. Some of the younger writers were brimming with self-confidence. I wasn’t one of them. Neither was I one of the sage practitioners of wordcraft. My publishing record consisted of a few short stories. I had ambitions for longer pieces but that was not to happen for a number of years and even then, I wasn’t ready to put my hand in the mangle. If not for being stranded in Hay with just £10 to last the week and not wanting to disappoint my mentor, I considered walking the 55 miles home.
For Tony Bianchi and Mr. Lombardi, I have created several characters who, if they don’t directly reflect these two men in any real sense, they are tributes to the generosity of spirit each exhibited toward writers and students.
This is a tough journey without the open-hearted help of others who’ve gone before us and hold the doors open. Who are some of the writers, teachers, mentors who opened doors for you?
Addendum 2014: There are, of course, more people in my career who’ve stood by me, supported and encouraged me. My English professor, Dr. Stanley Tick, is one. My nearest and dearest family and friends know I couldn’t do this without them.