I’d been submitting to traditional publishers for a long time. Some would respond with encouraging letters to soften the rejection, other along the lines of ‘it doesn’t fit into our prestigious list’.
My writing life was in stasis. I filled it with freelance jobs in nursing, medical research, a stint as an editor for a primary health care magazine. Writing scripts for television, writing for children. But what I really wanted to do was write literary fiction.
That seemed so presumptuous that I never confided this dream to anyone. For years I followed advice that I should earn a living with my writing. This wind blew my here and there but brought no recognition, and no satisfaction. Only exploitation, I was a never-ending source of story ideas.
At a mature age, with work drying up and in a deep depression, a friend told me about the MA in Creative Writing at Rhodes University. I did my usual thing with excuses of why I couldn’t do it. However, three days before the deadline, I applied and was accepted. At last I was following my dream.
That was the best decision I had made in thirty years. Caught on the treadmill of putting others’ interest before my own — which I had done automatically, without thinking, because thinking brought me in contact with myself —I embarked on this course with trepidation. Was my brain cells too atrophied for such a work-out? How would I fare competing with younger students? My fears kept me awake.
But soon I realised that I was a natural. I had accumulated a lifetime of writing advice and blossomed.
I submitted the collection of short stories I had worked on, with a recommendation and high hopes, to a local publisher. Still the same response: of the ‘fitting into our beautiful list’, variety.
Then calamity struck. I had a severe reaction to an antibiotic and went into anaphylaxis. My tongue swelled up, I couldn’t breathe. After almost dying I decided to self-publish.
My lecturers and some of my fellow writers were uneasy but I felt good about this choice. It was right for ME. It pulled me back to life.