In my head, on the page, my story is real.
I am in the story, I can feel the characters’ breath on my neck. I sigh when they sigh, I see what they see. It is a work of genius. I sit upright. I’m smiling.
Read out loud to the group though my words become clumsy and uninspiring. Moments of intense pain sound hollow and cliché. The more I read the more foolish I feel for the smile I had on my face, the enthusiasm I had when I offered to read. My voice stumbles, I can’t catch my breath, I twist the ring on my left hand frantically.
When I’m done, people say kind things. But then they would wouldn’t they? I interpret the silences as awkward pauses, where no one can thing of anything good to say, so they decide not to say anything at all. I slump back in my chair, fold my arms across my chest and vow not to volunteer for the next reading.
I listen to other people read their stories, watch as the group stares at them as they read, eyes fixed, bodies leant in. At the end people are smiling, everyone is full of praise. More praise than I had? I think so, but I can’t be sure. I inwardly chastise myself for comparing myself to others, for wanting the other stories to be bad, so that mine will seem better. I envy the writers their beautiful memories of evening cricket games with friends, leaning against a lamp-post, of hospital waiting rooms where time slows down and family members squirm and fidget their way through visiting time.
After lunch I meet with one of my tutors and show him the piece I have written about being ten. I cry. He tells me I write beautifully, and to have confidence in myself. But then what else could he say to a woman sat with her knees pulled in tight to her chest, sobbing quietly?
I go over to the barn, and curl into the corner of one of the giant sofas. I want to work on my piece from the morning, an exchange between two almost lovers, but every sentence feels forced and ridiculous, like the very worst kind of writing. I wonder why I came, what was I hoping to achieve? To write a poem, a story, a whole book? I imagine myself five years down the line, with a book published, but it doesn’t make me happy.