5 things we learned at The Riff Raff January writers' night

We had five, extraordinary debut authors; a packed house full of lovely, lively book aficionados and aspiring writers, not to mention our regular, cosy venue…

There was just one thing missing – or was there? Our beloved co-founder Amy is in Australia writing her second book, which meant Rosy hosted the event solo. However, thanks to the wonders of technology, by which we mean a printer, a stick and lots of parcel tape, Amy’s spirit was very much with us on the night.

Rosy Edwards and Amy Baker at The Riff Raff in January

Each one of our monthly events is a hotbed of writing wisdom but our January meet was bursting with it. Maybe it was the New Year, or the beer, or the full moon…more likely it was the fact we had five authors who were as enthusiastic as they were talented, and eager to help anyone in the room on their own journey to publication.

We could write a book on what we learned – but I get it, you’re busy. So here it is, summarised in five, handy sections.

1. Never, never, ever give up

The path to publication is littered with rejection. Some writers get there more easily than others and some find it easier to talk about. Thank god for Fiona Mitchell, author of The Maid’s Room and our first writer of the night.

She talked openly, honestly and bravely about the highs, lows and lowers-stills of writing her first book.

She sought advice from an editor. She took on, and learned from feedback, even when it was harsh to hear.

She finally had a breakthrough after transposing characters from one story into another but it was Fiona’s sheer and bloody persistence that brought The Maid’s Room to life.

“No matter how hard things get, you can do it.” Fiona Mitchell

Fiona Mitchell at The Riff Raff January

2. Not all writers are 'Writers'

You won’t have read anything like Emma Glass’ debut Peach, and it’s unlikely you will meet another author quite like Emma.

Peach does not follow rules; it breaks them, spectacularly and elegantly. Emma spoke about the problems of confining yourself to the conventions of a traditional ‘novel’, suggesting that it stunts innovation in writing.

Peach came from a raw place, a deep place, which Emma accessed by closing her eyes and setting herself free to write whatever the hell she wanted.

“Like a magpie, I am attracted to sparkly words and things that sound nice,” she said and you can hear more from her on the latest episode of The Riff Raff Podcast.

She describes herself not as a writer, but as a nurse who wanted to try and write something. That something just happens to be marvellous.

“Everyone has a book in them. That’s the truth.” Emma Glass

Emma Glass at The Riff Raff January

3. Write at your own pace

C.J. Tudor wanted to be an author her whole life – but life gets in the way.

C.J. regaled us with hilarious stories from her pre-writing life – including a tale about Robert Downey Jnr. that is probably libellous – and mentioned the birth of her daughter as reasons that kept her from her keyboard.

In her own words, she came to writing late in life, but it has been worth the wait. Her incredible debut, The Chalk Man, is rooted in an encounter C.J. had with her daughter's chalk drawings but it so much more than that: it is a coming of age tale that reflects C.J.’s childhood in the Eighties, her passion for dark stories and all the lessons she has learned on the journey into adulthood.

It is, she confessed, her second book after an “awful” first attempt involving a love story on a Scottish island…our audience was keen to know if C.J. might return to it, which received an emphatic 'no'...we reckon she might just be doing alright where she is.

“I like plots, and mysteries, and storytelling.” C.J. Tudor

4. You should write a memoir, and you shouldn’t write a memoir

Tara Westover, our fourth author of the evening, is a phenomon: uneducated until 17, she now has a PhD from Cambridge and a book, Educated, covering her experience.

We loved hearing about Tara’s approach to writing, which is confident, bold and self-aware. It took courage, she said, to write a memoir about her family – something our audience was keen to know more about.

“It was a serious decision,” she said, before advocating both in favour of writing memoirs and against.

She talked eloquently about the editing process: how much outside involvement is good, when it’s required – and when it’s not – and the agency that all authors have to dictate their own life and work.

We were unbelievably lucky to have preview copies of Educated for our audience to buy. When it officially comes to market in mid-February, it will be fastest fingers first.

“I wanted someone to help me write my book after I’d written my book. It was my life.” Tara Westover