Friday, 18 June 2010

How a Hamster made me a Writer

I like hamsters. They're cute and furry and wash their faces in that sweet curled up paw way. And as a pet for a child they're easy to handle, inexpensive to keep, and don't need much by the way of maintenance. An added bonus is they don't live for ever, unlike rabbits and guinea pigs which can go on for years and years, long after the children have grown out of having small furry pets leaving their mother to look after them. But I digress.

We had a series of hamsters when my children were small. One Saturday morning I was cleaning out the cage, fitting a new rolled up newspaper to the bottom of the cage before putting in fresh bedding. And of course, I was letting myself get sidetracked by reading the paper. It was our local one and the article that caught my eye as I smoothed the paper over the bottom of the cage was about a short story competition. Hamster on my shoulder, we scanned the details. 1000 words max, legal theme, deadline that Monday.

I knew I wanted to write a novel. I'd known it for years, but somehow I never managed to find the time to actually write anything beyond Chapter 1. A novel was an awful lot of writing. On the other hand, 1000 words sounded easy - surely I could do that over the weekend. The only problem was the legal theme, as I knew nothing about the law.

I put the hamster back in its nice clean cage and went off and wrote a short story. It was about 600 words long, about a will and an inheritance, which was the only legal theme I could think of. I had to drive round to the newspaper offices on Monday to deliver it by lunchtime. For the next couple of weeks I eagerly checked the post, but nothing arrived. I forgot all about it.

Then, months later, the letter came - and a cheque. I'd won second prize and £50. Hooray! I ran around the house squeaking, then sat down and set to writing. This was obviously how I was going to make my fortune. I actually - oh the shame - worked out how much money I was going to win from all the short story comps I entered over the next three weeks.

I won nothing. Not a penny. I was obviously not a genius after all. But I had scraped a mention in a long list and that was enough to encourage me. I signed up for a creative writing course...

Who lives near Birmingham? On 23rd June 6.30 - 8.30 Lucy Diamond, Milly Johnson, Veronica Henry and me will be talking about writing at Birmingham Library. Come and meet us!

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