Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Behind The Railings - what it takes to get published

I am watching a very good friend of mine trying to become a professional writer. She has a two year old child, a part-time job and she is pregnant. Demands upon her time and energy are never-ending. She wakes up feeling tired. And yet she struggles on with her novel.

I am reminded of an event I witnessed thirty years ago in the days before mobile phones. At that time I was working in Central London and used to cycle home in the evenings past Battersea Park, a large open space south of the river.

It was autumn and the evenings were beginning to draw in. The road beside the park was like a motorway, the traffic heavy and no sign of any pedestrians. I switched on my bicycle lamp and pedalled determinedly, trying to think of something other than how much of my journey still lay ahead.

Then I saw the woman. She was standing inside the park clutching the railings with one hand and holding a baby in the other. There was something about her face that drew my attention as I flashed past. Had I been mistaken or had she mouthed something at me? I carried on cycling for a few minutes as my brain tried to decode what I had just seen. Suddenly I realised that she had been saying, 'Help me!'

I stopped my bicycle, turned round and wheeled it back towards the woman. As I got closer it was clear from her expression that she was utterly desperate. 'Are you all right?' I asked

'No,' she said. 'The park gates are locked and I can't get out.' She was almost sobbing. 'If I didn't have the baby, I could climb out but I can't leave him. Will you take him?'

She handed the child over the railings to me and a few minutes later she had clambered over herself. I gave her back the baby. 'How long have you been stuck there?' I asked.

'Three quarters of an hour,' she said. Then her self-control broke and she began openly weeping.

'Do you want me to walk home with you?' I asked but she shook her head.

'I'll be all right now,' she said, embarrassed by her tears. 'I don't live far away. I just couldn't do anything because of the baby and he was getting so cold.' She walked away without another word. I got back on my bicycle and carried on with my journey.

Whenever I see my friend struggling to find a way of finishing her novel while looking after her toddler and working three days a week at the same time, I remember the woman in the park. Like her, my friend needs the traffic to stop. She needs an agent or an editor to take an interest. And all the time that she waits, desperately hoping for a miracle, she struggles bravely to maintain her self-control and to keep her dignity.


Derek said...

It always interests me how writers remember scenes and people - they way they can - as you have - conjure up an experience so that it lives and breathes again. Aside from being an interesting moment in someone else's life, it's also a great piece of writing.

Having gone through and back out a number of revolving doors in the quest for publication (some, it has to be said, quite rightly), I know how your friend feels. Even without other responsibilities, it can feel like a never-ending journey. And the reality is that some of us will never reach the destination. but if we continue to apply ourselves, and write, we will reach somewhere.

I empathise with your friend, as she juggles her needs and the child's needs. Writing is a passion and a demanding mistress. And there's always self-publication!

Brian Keaney said...

Thanks, Derek. Good to hear from you. Trying to break into writing seems to get harder every year.

Derek said...

It's a hard labour of love!

Paul said...

Wonderful post, Brian, and an apt memory. I agree with Derek. We'll keep at it, despite the odds arrayed against us, because it is a worthy thing to attempt.

(now, back to work!)

Brian Keaney said...

Thanks, Paul. Always a pleasure to hear from you.