One of the Tribe
Katie Hurst reflects on how finding a community of writers helped her through the ups and downs of a tumultuous year
I remember Lucy Christopher telling us all at our welcome meeting that on this MA we’d find our “tribe”, who we’d want to workshop with forever, write with forever, edit with forever. Even be friends with forever. And as someone who’s always been a massive introvert and certainly, a lone wolf when it comes to writing stories, I was perhaps more than a little sceptical.
I was used to sharing my work before, although it never gets any easier, because I’d done English Literature and Creative Writing as my undergraduate degree. So, workshopping seemed fairly natural to me, and throughout my first semester on the MA I wrote some stuff that I’m really proud of. But it wasn’t until my second semester and the start of Writing Workshop Two (run by the wonderful Steve Voake) that I started to have real writing epiphanies.
I can’t quite describe the atmosphere that we somehow managed to create in our workshopping group; it was one of safety, yet of honesty, of poignance, yet good humour. Considering I was in the process of writing a novel about something I’d never braved before – my eating disorder – I never once felt uncomfortable or judged; in fact, quite the opposite. My workshopping friends told me that reading Trying Not To Disappear helped them to understand disordered eating better, made them think about the ways in which they discussed food with others and yet still managed to make them laugh. It was everything I hoped the story could do, and more. I think, for the first time, I was being seen through my writing, and seen by people I knew I could trust. But building on this, it was so important to me that my fellow workshoppers still gave me frank and helpful critique that has helped make my book so much better. For instance, it was workshop feedback that helped me realise Trying Not To Disappear needed to be told in first-person perspective, instead of the third; an absolutely incremental change that has really shaped and defined the narrative voice.
Reading my fellow workshoppers’ writing massively inspired me to do better too; I was inspired by their imaginations, their voices, their senses of humour and, of course, their impeccable punctuation! Not only did I get a constant stream of writing inspiration, but also a super reliable source of great reading: one minute I was running around a magical hotel, then creeping down a London alleyway, then standing trial before witches and on and on and on… never a dull moment.
And then, of course, the pandemic hit us. I had one last visit to Corsham Court to see Lucy Christopher, my newly-appointed manuscript tutor. We talked endlessly about Trying Not To Disappear and I left, on one hand, over the moon about my story’s progression, and on the other hand, overwhelmed by the saddest sneaking fear that we might never meet as a workshop again in the beautiful Corsham grounds. And, sadly, we didn’t. But weekly Google Hangouts with Steve and the group kept me going, kept my story living and breathing, and I like to think we all helped each other through that tricky time (when finding inspiration was, at times, a real struggle).
12 May 2020 was the day my life changed forever; I was rushed into A&E for emergency bowel surgery and ended up not going home again for two months. It’s a long, long story that I won’t bore you with now, but there were multiple surgeries, a life support machine, pneumonia and stoma bags. By the time I got home in summer, my university deadlines were closing in and I hadn’t written Trying Not To Disappear for months; I had tens of thousands of words to write and no time to write them. Luckily, the MA staff were ridiculously kind and generous. Lucy helped me to arrange an extended deadline that worked for me and she set up various Google Hangout meetings for me to make up for missed time and missed feedback. One day, three big plants turned up at my house, addressed to me. Upon investigation, I discovered that they were from not only my workshopping friends, but the MA staff and entire MA cohort. And from that day on, gift after gift arrived; face masks and candles and cards and, best of all, a year long book delivery subscription from Mr B’s Book Emporium in Bath (a book through the letterbox every single month). I couldn’t believe the kindness; I couldn’t believe, despite how unlucky I had been, how fortunate I was to have found people who cared that much about me and my recovery.
And so, despite the agony, and fatigue, and PTSD, I started to write again; I found Sunday’s voice again.
In the end, I handed in 30,000 words of Trying Not To Disappear just one week after the original deadline and received a first for it. A few months later I achieved a first class masters degree overall. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of in my entire life, and I’ll remember my year at Bath Spa, for so many reasons, forever.
So, yes, it may sound like an absolute cheese-fest, but I absolutely found my writing tribe at Bath Spa on the Writing for Young People MA, and now I wouldn’t want to write a book without them!