Elaine Everest proves that those who CAN, teach!

Posted: April 20, 2012 in Friday Guest
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

If someone had told me that one day I’d be writing for a living and running a very successful writing school I’d have laughed in their face. It had taken redundancy and then the death of my father for me to realise I had to do something about my dream of being a writer. Up until then I had scribbled short stories for my own enjoyment and written copy for my breed club magazine. I wasn’t even sure I had it in me to be a published writer and was frightened that my dream would fail. It was a very nervous me that ventured into an adult education class in 1998 after first checking that I wouldn’t have to stand up and read my work out loud. Within one term I was eager to learn more, I was devouring writing magazines, sending off submissions and entering competitions. I even started to send articles to magazines and was petrified when they sold. Surely before too long someone would find out what a fraud I really was?

Like many adult education courses our creative writing classes ceased due to low numbers and budget cuts. Determined not to give up on my writing and go back to full time work I kept writing and attended workshops and a local writing group. I fitted in the odd temporary job to top up the coffers. In 2002 I heard about a writing competition being run by BBC Radio Kent. They gave the first line of a story and we had to complete it. I won the April heat and went on to become the overall winner of the year long competition which was judged live on the radio by a panel of well known people in the media world. I won a mug and my story was broadcast, but that one win opened so many doors for me.

The following year I met a course manager at the very same adult education centre where I had been a student. We chatted about my successes and after an interview I was offered a contract to teach creative writing at three of their centres – I was being paid to teach my favourite subject and the first class was to be in the room where I had once been a very nervous student. I wouldn’t say it was easy being a tutor, especially as many of my students were retired teachers. It felt very intimidating. Gradually I became comfortable in my role as I found that my students had the very same dream that had started me on the path to be a writer. Thinking back to those first classes I realise now that I couldn’t have been that bad a tutor as many of those students are now good friends with whom I have shared the odd bottle of merlot at writing retreats and workshops. I also took the opportunity to study for a teaching qualification and learned so much about the world of education.

I began to realise that although I loved to teach my favourite subject and to motivate my students, the adult education service did not support creative writing students. I became sick of the form filling and having to drum up enough attendees so that classes would go ahead the following term. I began to feel like a salesman rather than an educator. The final straw was a new management team arriving who were not interested in the successes of the people who attended our courses but only counted the ‘bums on seats.’ I’m not ashamed to say that after one particularly annoying meeting where my manager ignored the list of competitions my students had won I picked up my briefcase and walked out. I felt awful as not only had I walked away from a well paid job but I had left many students without a tutor. What happened next still brings a lump to my throat. My students all left the adult education service and demanded that I start my own classes. It was a great idea but how to start and where?

It used to be easy to rent a church hall and run a workshop, I’d done it often with our writing group but to my dismay I found that most halls in our area were used for day nurseries and the evenings fully booked for many other activities. I tentatively approached The Mick Jagger Centre in Dartford. Attached to a boys grammar school the thriving arts centre had made a name for itself off the back of ex student Sir Mick and his group, The Rolling Stones. The man himself kept in touch with the centre and had funded many music ventures for young people. Already a haven for most forms of music and dance, would the centre be interested in renting rooms to a writing school? It was important that we were a school rather than a writing group as the idea was to be able to teach all forms of writing and also provide workshops with authors, speaker events, trips and competitions; many things we were not allowed to do within the confines of the adult education service. Thankfully the MJC welcomed us with open arms and classes have gone from strength to strength. With colleague and writer, Francesca Burgess we have been delighted with students being placed and winning competitions, selling stories to magazines as well as features in national newspapers. Some now work as writers whilst others just enjoy creating and enjoying the written word. We are close to seeing the first novel being picked up and already we have non-fiction books commissioned.

I feel privileged to have played a part in so many peoples’ writing lives and helped them on their way to publication. It has been hectic at times; after all I am still writing and still have goals to achieve myself. I am a working writer as well as a tutor so life is busy but it is also very rewarding.

***

Apart from running The Write Place creative writing school Elaine is a freelance journalist and author. She has a weekly column in canine publication, Our Dogs and has written three non-fiction books for dog owners. Her knowledge of the pedigree dog show world sees her broadcasting on radio about such subjects as micro chipping, dangerous dogs and picking up after our pets – her life is nothing if not glamorous!

Elaine has also written for over forty publications on topics as diverse as self building and nasty neighbours to organic apple juice production and how to set up a catering business. She was a finalist in the 2012 Harry Bowling competition as well as BBC Radio short story writer of the year in 2003.

Books available on Amazon:

A New Puppy in the Family

Showing Your Dog, A Beginner’s Guide

Canine Cuisine

Diamonds and Pearls (a collection of short stories)

…and Elaine’s Dog Blog

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Comments
  1. Wendy says:

    What a lovely inspiring post. “Surely before too long someone would find out what a fraud I really was?” hits a chord so many of us have – and getting validation for our writing is so so important. The Write Place sounds like a great place to give it and receive it. Have you ever thought of franchising?

  2. Elaine – great post and an inspiration to us all. I empathise with the fear of being found out – I’ve spent the past thirty year with the same concern in the day-job. Now that I’m writing full-time, I hope to avoid that feeling this time around.

  3. Kate Albion says:

    It’s heartbreaking what’s happened to Adult Education 😦

    I admire what you did – well done for sticking to what you believe in 🙂

  4. I only joined The Write Place in January and I’m so pleased that I did!!!!!! I would highly recommend it to anyone 🙂 I have learnt so much from Elaine, she is lovely 🙂

    So pleased to see this on your blog Sue, will reblog to mine 🙂

    Xx

  5. Reblogged this on The View Outside and commented:
    A feature on my writing tutor 🙂

  6. Elaine Everest says:

    Thank you all so much for the lovely comments and for reblogging.
    Kate, I agree it is very sad what has happened to Adult Education. I have fond memories of being able to attend many kinds of classes taught by trades people and hobby enthusiasts. This has now been lost. When I studied for my teaching qualification it was a contractual requirement that all tutors gained the qualification within two years. I was with people who taught, lacemaking, reflexology, home cooking and chocolate making and all were struggling to keep up with the course as they were not academically minded. They were brilliant teachers of their crafts and this is what is lost in adult education today.
    Wendy, we have considered franchising The Write Place, it is on our ‘to do’ list.

  7. Adam says:

    As a pupil of the Write Place I can vouch for Elaine, Francesca an the work that they do. I can relate to Elaine’s initial trepidation, which describes exactly how I felt when I walked into my very first class! Writing is a pleasurable pass time for me, but with environments such as the Write Place people such as myself are given confidence and encouragement to make a living, however small from their writing. Long may it continue!

  8. Carol says:

    I can’t go to the Write Place, but what would I do without you or the others.

  9. It is a shame what’s happened to Adult Ed. If I hadn’t joined Elaine’s class in 2006 (and I shared that feeling of trepidation that first term!) then I wouldn’t have got as far as I have today.

    Thank you, Elaine, for inviting me to help you run The Write Place. I am very proud of what our students have achieved.

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