By Carol Poolton
Stepping across the threshold of the homely Victorian cottage, we are enveloped by an
atmosphere of peace and tranquillity. The crackling fire and cosy couches are as familiar
now as the smell of fresh coffee brewing and delicious muffins straight from the oven. It’s
story time and we’ve been looking forward to it for weeks.
A creative writing course seemed like as good idea – a break from the monotony of
my daily routine. A chance to turn my mind to something new, get some fresh thoughts in to
my head. Something restless was stirring; reaching out for expression, nudging for attention.
It had something to tell me.
My early scribblings were somewhat underwhelming, although Cathy was far too kind
to say so. But with her guidance I discovered that not only could I write quite well, but I could write stories that others wanted to read! Being published for the first time was a thrill, a defining moment. I had considered myself to be a finished product; certain that whatever
gifts nature bestowed had been fully exploited by now. To discover that there is a part of me
still unexplored, a depth to be fathomed, was a revelation.
And I am in good company.
Alison, with her broad Scottish accent and forthright manner, entertains us with
colourful fictions, cobbled together during insomniac hours. She takes us in to the
mysterious den of a fortune teller; a dimly lit room where past and future are revealed. We
can imagine the crystal ball, the tarot cards, the ouija board and all the tools of a mystic’s
trade. Suddenly, a tap on the window. Is this a departed spirit, a strange visitation, a
deceased relative from another realm? No, it’s the gardener and he’s run out of chlorine for
Did Alison know she had this sense of comic timing, this talent for humour? Or did
she discover her ability in this group, as I did?
And enigmatic Tamara: stately, self-contained and slightly other-worldly. Her
presence and gravitas speak of a woman who has lived the most fascinating of lives. In
suitably sombre tones she relates the story of a dislocated family travelling in the old Russia.
It is atmospheric and so descriptive we can all imagine ourselves on that steam train to an
unknown destination. What will become of them? Tamara isn’t telling although she knows,
because she once had family on such a train, too.
Nikki: blonde, beautiful and vivacious, looks as if she hasn’t a wicked thought in her
mind. But she has; plenty of them. Romantic fiction is her chosen genre. While Cathy
despises the antagonist, a menacing mafioso type, I find him rather appealing in a pervy sort
of way. I have a sneaking suspicion that he will fall under the spell of the fragile girl he stalks.
Then he will be at her mercy, not the other way around. Sure, there is a little colourful
language and mild sadism involved, but we’re all adults, right?
Pier touches a nerve through her story about ageing. In the simple setting of a hair
salon, the woman with the thinning, greying hair is all of us. As she gazes in despair at her
reflection in the mirror, we see ourselves there too. Her writing is sensitive and nuanced with
a touch of pathos. So polished and professional I’m guessing this is not new to her.
And Cathy, with rapt attention, presides. With her graciousness, insight and ability to
connect with her students in the most personal of ways she makes us feel as if we have
something eminently valuable to contribute, something important to say. She is a teacher,
but also a friend, mentor and confidante, privy to our most intimate thoughts. In her presence we can express ourselves without fear of judgment. Ever diplomatic, her criticism is astute but gentle.
The practice of learning to write well develops a useful skill. Forever more I will avoid
the overuse of adverbs and pay close attention to punctuation. Who knew that semi-colons
made such a difference? I find myself approving the correct use of them in every article I
read. And when they are mistakenly replaced by commas, I feel mildly offended. Where did
this writer learn punctuation, I wonder? Cathy would never allow such sloppiness ...
But writing, like art, is also a very personal journey, a delving into the soul and
exercise for the mind. Unique stories, hidden inside us, are given voice. It’s cathartic,
therapeutic and creative – all at the same time.
For me, discovering this outlet for creativity has been a blessing, and my journey
continues. And so, it must be said, does my frustration. Often, I just can’t find the words; it’s
hard work pulling those concealed thoughts out of my mind. They are stubbornly resistant;
preferring not to reveal themselves, playing hard to get. But sometimes, out of the fog, they
emerge and can be assembled into order. And then comes the right phrasing, the
appropriate vocabulary, the relatable idea - and the satisfaction.
While I believe strongly that we are the creators of our own lives, choosers of our
own paths, I wonder if fate doesn’t sometimes intervene. I can’t remember now how I found
Cathy’s number or why I chose to call. Why I selected this writing course and not another.
It was exactly the right number to call and Cathy was precisely the person I needed to meet.
Because I did, something has been unlocked, a key turned, a door opened. A whole new
adventure, one I never expected, has begun.