by Sarah Connell
From seven to seventy there is a line, an invisible one that only I can see. From the child who sat in the library, too shy and too unconfident to admit to the questioner that she wanted to be a writer, the line stretches to my seventieth birthday celebration when my debut novel was launched. What connects them is the years of a full family and working life, when the notebooks filled up, the drafts were abandoned, ideas dreamed of and lost, and I never admitted out loud that I was always writing.
What changed was an evening class tutor who recognised the persistent desire in me, plus a slow opening up of the idea that you can write even if you are not one of the greats. You will not write a classic, a world changing piece of art. But it is necessary for you, for yourself, to do it. So, send off a few thousand words to a competition. That was the real start. Because to be long listed in the Cinnamon Press Novel Competition was, to my husband's chagrin, the 'most exciting thing that had ever happened to me'.
When Jan Fortune offered me the opportunity to apply for a mentor a couple of years later, I said no thanks. I was going through another phase of thinking that the ambition to write was a ridiculous thing in a woman of my age and situation. I was cross with myself.
Jan came back to me and suggested again that I apply. I filled in the form in as negative a way as possible. That'll be the end of that. But Cinnamon offered me a year's mentorship with a young academic — my next obstacle. How can I have someone so young? Why him? Jan assured me he was interested in character in fiction and my work is based on character development, she said.
When someone reads your lines word for word, noticing every unnecessary one and correcting every sloppy piece of punctuation, deleting repetition, praising phrases that work — then you are being taken seriously. So you take yourself and what you doing seriously. My mentor made all the difference to me. I am grateful for all Cinnamon's support and patience over these past years. The most significant thing they have done is allow me to be read by a thoughtful and careful reader who has put up with my tortoise pace and reckless lack of plot outlines. My perception of my work, and my relationship to it, have changed for good.
Did I mention that Whenever won the Cinnamon Novel Competition 2017? Sixty five people came to support me when it was launched. So you really are never too old. And the girl in the library can if she wants to enough.