Over the past couple of weeks, since The Soldier’s Wife came out, various students of mine have reviewed it.
It’s an odd sensation.
These are my workshopping students. Over months – sometimes years – I have taken their work apart and put it back together again. Complimented them, advised them, encouraged them and, occasionally, given them a metaphorical whack up the back of the head.
It’s a part of my life which I enjoy. I love seeing students gain in expertise and confidence, in understanding and skill. I love seeing stories become more intriguing, better written, tighter, more emotionally affecting. I love seeing students move from ‘I think I’d like to write a book’ to ‘I’m a writer’. And I particularly like it when their stories are published, which has happened quite a few times now!
But it’s not very often that my own work is put under their scrutiny.
Of course, all my previous books are out there (under the name Pamela Freeman). But funnily enough, very few students have read them. (This is something I’ve never quite understood. If I were taking a writing course, I’d have read everything I could find of the teacher’s work before I turned up for the first session. That’s the researcher in me, I guess.) I do get the occasional speculative fiction writer who has read my fantasy novels, and I get parents who have read my children’s books to their kids, but it’s rare (actually, most of the students who are parents know my kids’ work, but they only know the book names. It’s like they never look at the author’s name).
So when I know that a student has both read my work and done a review, I have two reactions:
- Thankyouthankyouthankyou (because reviews, YES!), and
- Lots of nerves.
This is the moment when all the respect could be stripped away. When I could be exposed as a fraud, not knowing anything more about writing than my most baby writing student. And no matter how good a book I may have written (and who ever really knows how good their own work is?), there’s no guarantee that this particular person will like it. There’s no guarantee that anyone will like it.
That’s the big risk in doing creative work. That in the end, people will hate it – or, even worse, think, ‘Meh.’
So far, thank God, either none of my students has thought that, or else none of them has been mean enough to write a review if they did.
So I’d like to publicly thank the ones who did like it enough to review it. And thank them and all the other new writers I have taught, because I know that my writing is better because I have taught them. I know that my point of view is more closely focussed, my pace faster, my structure tighter, because looking at their work has taught me what to look for in my own. I know that I have become braver as a writer because I’ve witnessed their courage and their willingness to take criticism and improve their work.
Many of these students have been with me over the time I’ve written and edited The Soldier’s Wife, and I’d also like to thank them for their encouragement and support during that time – and now.