I was excited but nervous about having the first fifty pages of my novel-in-progress reviewed by the novelist Jacqui Lofthouse, founder of The Writing Coach, a mentoring organisation for writers. This was the rather generous prize for winning The Asian Writer’s 2012 short story competition.
Parts of my novel had been reviewed in writing workshops, and by peers and creative writing tutors. I have no doubt that feedback from others has helped me evolve as a writer, but I find that critiques are sometimes double-edged: a throwaway comment can stifle the writing process, even when the rational mind understands that it’s ill-informed. I need not have worried about Jacqui though.
Soon after I emailed her the synopsis and the first fifty pages of my novel, Jacqui sent me an exhaustive questionnaire about my writing goals, challenges and expectations from the consultation. Answering these questions helped me clarify some of the doubts I had about my novel. I possibly went overboard with the number of questions that I wanted Jacqui to address, but I was reassured by the fact that she was engaging with me as a writer, with all the fears, anxieties and hopes that went with it.
Three weeks later, I met Jacqui at the British Library, where she talked to me about my novel for over an hour. Though she called it ‘nit-picking’, her comments about the excerpt and the synopsis were thorough and constructive. She answered my lengthy list of questions, giving me confidence about aspects of the novel I was worried about as also my writing skills. She suggested ways to quicken the pace, and to clarify character motivation, in a couple of scenes. At the end of the consultation, I felt ready to tackle my next round of revisions.
It turned out that I had met Jacqui on what was effectively her last day as a writing coach. She is going to pursue a PGCE, about which she has written in her blog, though I understand that her excellent The Writing Coach website and its resources for writers will continue. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with Jacqui and wish her the very best in her new career.
Deepa Anappara is a freelance journalist from India currently living in London. She is a graduate of the City University’s Certificate in Novel Writing (2010-2011) course. Her novel-in-progress has been shortlisted for the 2012 Yeovil Literary Prize. Her reports on education and religious violence have won the Developing Asia Journalism awards, instituted by the Tokyo-based Asian Development Bank Institute, and the NGO Internews’ Every Human has Rights Media Awards.