This time of year awakens the longing inside of us. Old aspirations are dusted off and re-examined; our lives begin to dissatisfy; we are restless. Maybe it’s something to do with the leaves turning—that sense of time passing, of our own mortality. Or maybe it’s that back-to-school or college feeling, the one we grew up with, preparing for each September, the milestone month, when our true calendar began. So now, each passing year, as we tick off the opportunities missed, we feel September pressing at our backs, urging us to take one more chance, to resurrect our dreams.
I picked up the phone and called. The woman on reception was helpful; she found a suitable slot and booked me in. Starting in September—the familiar words were back on my lips. This time there was no booklist, no uniform, no one to take me there or show me round. I simply finished work one evening and took a bus to a part of the city I hadn’t visited for a while. There, in a building of faded grandeur, I joined a group of equally nervous adults and signed up for my first creative writing class. Standing round the battered boiler, waiting my turn to make tea, I realised I hadn’t signed up with a group like this since starting my first job, over twenty years earlier. It was scary but invigorating too. Here were new people who knew nothing about me; it was a chance to reinvent myself. Maybe I could begin to think of myself as, dared I say it, an aspiring writer? I was 39.
Apart from the insistence of September, there was another voice in my head—are you going to do this before turning 40 because if you don’t try now, you never will. I knew the voice was right. I had always written, as a child, as a teenager, right into my early twenties. There were copybooks and bits of paper in plastic bags at the back of cupboards and in the attic. But life had intervened. Writing had slipped away like a forgotten dream, but one that still tugged at me. And now, all the fates had collided. Two friends had begun creative writing masters at Trinity and Queen’s. One of them suggested I test the water myself with a course at the Irish Writers’ Centre. I looked around the group and fixed on one woman around my own age, noticing her quirky earrings, took the plunge and found we got on. My palms were sweating – I was four years old again, trying to find a friend.
It turned out most people in our group were easy to like. We were all that same stage, trying to get going again, to find out if we had any talent. Almost everyone was supportive and good humoured. It was a massive relief. Our tutor, the legendary Yvonne Cullen, was a wonder. She prised our work out of us, like a botanist examining the petals of a shy rose. She prompted us with props—unusual objects, odd photographs, a gramaphone with crackling recordings—she hunted us out for rhythmic walks round the darkening square, notebooks in hand to observe the startled passers-by. She knew we were scared, like birds at the nest’s edge and she knew her job was to push us out. That very first night, she made us write something and then she told us to read it aloud. This was the life-changing moment, a kind of terror set in: I think we all feared we would never get through. The friend I had made at the boiler came to my rescue; in whispers, we agreed to read out each other’s work; somehow this was easier than reading our own. Then, laughing at our own silliness, we confessed, so we knew we wouldn’t be able to get away with that trick again.
The following week in class, I finally read aloud to strangers, for the very first time, my newly-minted poem. Six years on, the dream has begun to become a reality. I am published here and there, my work has been awarded some prizes, I give readings now and then, I have earned my own MA from UCD, I am a member of a writers’ group. I know it’s a long road, with plenty of work ahead and so much still to learn. (As Kavanagh reportedly said, ‘the apprenticeship, you know, is twenty years.’) But it feels right to be on this road at last and I am meeting great companions along the way. Together, we keep the writing dream alive.