With fiction, I feel I know what I’m doing. Roughly. I have a uni Diploma in creative writing. I’ve had a small amount of fiction success. So hopefully I understand the principles of telling a good yarn, even if, like all writers, it takes me a few rewrites to sieve out the grit and get to the gold. And non fiction shouldn’t be a problem, should it? My OU education tutor, very well-respected and much published, urged me to do a Masters because he felt I wrote well at that level. I happily chunter on in my monthly column about preschool happenings in the village mag, and had a history article accepted by a Huntingdonshire magazine editor (she never ended up publishing it, mind, or commissioning the series she wanted me to do, but that’s another story).
But here’s my CONFESSION: generally, as far as non-fiction goes, I’m a bit scared. I’ve always felt I’m not worthy. Yes, I’ve dabbled in a few careers, but never risen to any professional prominence in them; I have hobbies, but haven’t pursued anything obsessively. I don’t even OWN an anorak. So why would anyone want me to write about education, childcare, inclusive practice, equality and diversity, history, medicines, children’s literature, books, or the genius that is Stargate in all its permutations, when there are hundreds of people out there more qualified than me?
I’ve read advice about writing non-fiction in magazines articles and on the blogs of writers like Simon Whaley and Alex Gazzola. I’ve learnt about finding my niche, expanding my niche, twisting topics in my niche so they fit into other people’s niches and venturing out of my niche. It all made me feel very buoyant. But when I had snuck away and thought about it for a while, the only thing I felt confident writing was a comment, preferably in size 6 font, on the end of their posts: “I haven’t got a niche. I don’t know quite enough about anything.”
I’n not the only one. I know this because on Alex’s blog, Mistakes Writers Make, he has charts showing most popular posts this month and most popular posts ever. Guess what? His post on this very subject -‘Mistake No. 12: “I can’t write for Yachting Monthly!”‘ is the top post this month and no.6 in his all time greats. Simon’s posts on this subject, which include Taking small steps and You’re the best person to write this piece because … are on his tutor blog Simon Says because he knows these concerns are shared by a lot of his students. But readers, I listened to their words of wisdom but did not quite believe. Forgive me, father, for…
Then this morning I sat down armed with pen, notebook, this month’s Writer’s News. I intended to read all the market news but in all honesty was only intending to note down fiction markets. Because, remember, I don’t Know Anything.
I started down the first ‘Flashes’ column. Pah! The top item was about Farm and Ranch Living, a U.S. bimonthly. Yeah, right. What do I know about farming and ranching in the U.S? Then BING!
I don’t know a lot about it, but I know a woman who does. Mary O’Hara.
I know what you’re thinking. The Irish harpist? Really? No, silly. Mary O’Hara the musician, screenwriter and author, who amongst other things wrote My Friend Flicka which was turned into a film and was all about life on a ranch. Not surprising really as she lived on a ranch for 17 years with her second husband. And my fascination with her books made me research her and read her autobiography… hmm. Perhaps I could write an article about her life as a rancher’s wife. Or the way she represented ranching in fiction. Or compare the life of a rancher’s wife in the 1930’s and 40’s to the life of a contemporary rancher’s wife – or indeed lady rancher. Ok. Star that one and write details in the notebook.
Next down, The Aviation Historian. Well I don’t know anything about…
Hold on. I live in East Anglia in the midst of a very hotbed of current and historical RAF activity. I live just over a mile from an RAF base. This means the local papers often feature historical photos and items about RAF history. It was one of these, an item about the extreme bravery of a Lancaster bomber crew member, that sparked my as yet incomplete novel, Forgive and Forget. The first chapter got me a very pleasing mark as my ‘exam piece’ in the first year of my Diploma. And even though that was a few years ago, I did lots of research, all of which I have tucked away. Hmmm…
So sorry, Alex and Simon. I see your point now. I need to think a bit more widely and have more confidence. Perhaps I’ll turn these musings into a filler or a letter, as well! *Whispers* “Ahem… you were right.”