I joined the Nottingham Writers’ Studio just over a year ago and it changed the way I thought about myself as a writer and my experience of writing itself. I still write alone in my study almost every day, but I’m not alone anymore. I’ve met like-minded people, first-class writers, passionate about writing, including as a member of two critique groups, and attended excellent one-day courses, as well as lively socials. I’m currently writing my second novel Nothing In It (paranormal romance/fantasy), and feel far more confident and supported as a writer. None of this would have been possible without the NWS.
When the call came from the NWS editorial board for short stories for this issue of the Journal, I saw it as an opportunity to rework and re-submit a story I’d written, but had submitted to two journals without success. I’d had no feedback from either, but I knew my story lacked something – it needed some oomph! The ‘sense of place’ theme was ideal for me: although fictionalised, my story drew on two periods of fieldwork in the North Staffordshire Potteries over twenty years apart, the first in the 1980s when the story is set.
Altogether, I’d lived and researched as a social anthropologist in Stoke-on-Trent for almost two years, as well as making a BBC documentary based on my doctoral research. I’ve also published some of my research findings (see below). But there were things I wanted to say about what seemed to me the wanton destruction of the pottery industry in North Staffordshire* and its relocation abroad which seemed better suited to fiction.
I submitted Potbank to the editorial board, and they responded with their feedback. They ‘loved the vivid and unique sense of place’ that I developed, but felt that the conflict between the two main characters (Jen and Dorothy) petered out and needed to be intensified. They also thought that, at times, I’d used dialogue to convey information to the reader, which made it sound stilted rather than natural.
I was pleased that the editorial board wanted to publish a revised version of Potbank, but couldn’t see at first how to do as they suggested, especially as I’d tried hard to capture the distinctive character of Potteries speech. But, when I read my story again, I could see what they meant, especially about the dialogue. I had used it to convey historical information which, though interesting in itself, had no direct relevance for the story. When I took that dialogue out, nothing was lost, it read better. Likewise, when I ratcheted-up the conflict, the piece as a whole had a stronger narrative drive and a more satisfying conclusion – the oomph it had lacked.
The edited story is what you read here, and I am sure it’s a better piece because of the editorial board’s advice. In reworking it, I also had input from one of my critique groups, which proved invaluable. Again, I wouldn’t have had any of this without the NWS.
Before I joined the NWS, I already had a successful writing career as an academic anthropologist and historian, but I found the transition to writing fiction less straightforward than I’d imagined. I understood and felt comfortable in the world of academic publishing, but that of fiction seemed to me an alien planet. This was the case even though I’d studied creative writing with Don Webb at UCLA Extension, and had completed my first 120,000-word fantasy novel (The Lost Lives of Libby Parker). But, as a member of the NWS, I am learning all the time about fiction publishing and the publication of Potbank marks a turning point for me. I hope you enjoy reading my short story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
To read my published research findings see Anthropology, class and the ‘big heads’:an ethnography of distinctions between ‘rough’ and ‘posh’ amongst women workers in the UK pottery industry by Elizabeth Hart
* See the following for an example of a successful pottery manufacturer still committed to the Potteries: http://www.emmabridgewater.co.uk