My first Creative Thursday was in 2007. I was one year in to an MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University and I was working on a novel, which at that stage was a weird hybrid of historical and literary fiction, set in London and 19th Century Australia. I wasn’t trying to write crime fiction, but my project touched on people going missing, coming to terms with loss and an ordinary woman trying to get answers. Also, the body count was starting to rise. I went to my first Creative Thursday hungry for a good writing workshop, something to engage with since the university term was over. I can’t remember much about the day, except that I know Martin Edwards gave us an excellent talk from a lawyer’s point of view. What I can remember is filling my notebook with ideas. As I listened to the professional writers speak, I had one light-bulb moment after another and by the end, I knew that the historical part of my project was history, and I had to surrender myself to the urge to write a crime novel.
Two years later and my MA was nearing its end. A full-length novel had taken shape. The email advertising Creative Thursday announced a new challenge: the first ever Dragon’s Pen. In a moment of madness, fear and excitement, I entered. When I arrived at the Old Swan Hotel, I bumped into another emerging writer whom I knew by sight, Jean Harrod. She was also entering the Dragon’s Pen. We clung on to each other for support and acquitted ourselves fairly well. She had the vote of confidence from two dragons and I had the vote from the other two. We went off to Betty’s to celebrate. In retrospect, my manuscript wasn’t as ready as I had imagined, it was months before I had anything I felt happy to send, and even then I didn’t get representation, but pitching to industry professionals had been an invaluable learning experience. The feedback from the dragons on the panel was extremely helpful and helped me market my work later on. The most important lesson I learned was that I had to understand my own premise, inside and out, in order to communicate it to an agent or publisher.
Forensics brought me back to my third Creative Thursday, in 2012, by which time I knew that my debut, To Catch a Rabbit, was going to be published. I was one of four winners of the first Moth Northern Crime Competition and I was spending that summer knocking my manuscript into shape for publication. It is a book about a PCSO called Sean Denton, about people going missing and about an ordinary woman trying to get answers, but instead of London and Australia, it is set in York and Doncaster. (They say write about what you know). I was drawn to the sessions on forensic science, with the opportunity to email questions in advance. This was a golden opportunity to get crucial information for my story, while I still had a chance to tweak the book. I also went to an excellent writing workshop with Greg Mosse, in which I created what became the opening scene of my second Sean Denton book, Bones in the Nest, (published by Allison and Busby, July 2015).
In other news, Jean Harrod, whom I’d got to know at Creative Thursday 2009, launched her debut, Deadly Diplomacy, this year and it was a great joy to attend her launch at York Waterstones. I’m sure there are many other writers out there who have been inspired, informed and encouraged by these days, and many who are now published. One of the reasons the format works so well is because informative talks and interactive writing workshops are followed by the rest of the Festival and an opportunity to hear professional crime writers and to discover new books. It’s a powerful reminder that the best training for any writer is to be a reader. For me, Creative Thursdays have been a continuous thread through my journey to publication: long may they thrive.
To Catch a Rabbit is published by Allison and Busby ISBN: 9780749017835 £7.99
Bones in the Nest will be published by Allison and Busby, July 2015
By Helen Cadbury