Thursday, 24 November 2011

Twenty Five Years Behind Bars - Avril Joy

This is my first post for Authors Electric and I’m really delighted to be part of such an enterprising and exciting group of writers. Writing can be such a solitary path and it feels good to be part of a wider, collaborative endeavour.
So how did I get here? How did I become a writer? And more to the point perhaps, a writer who is now e – publishing?

My first Kindle publication
By way of introduction, I often describe myself as ‘a writer on the run after twenty five years in prison.’ As you can imagine that raises a fair few eyebrows. Friends often caution against it, saying but people will think you’ve been in prison. Well, I say, they’d be right.
I spent the best part of my working life at HMP Low Newton, a women’s prison on the outskirts of Durham City UK, where I worked in varying capacities from teacher to senior manager. I initially took the job on a temporary basis. I didn’t mean to stay that long but somehow the place, or more accurately the women, just grew on me. It was ever-changing, never boring; a fascinating if hidden environment in which to work but perhaps most remarkable of all, it was here in prison that I discovered I could write.

When author Wendy Robertson was appointed by the prison Governor as a Writer-in -Residence we quickly became great friends. She worked a lot in my classroom and I joined the workshop she ran for the staff including prison officers and teachers. Wendy decided to publish a collection of the women’s work and asked me to contribute a piece about teaching and about women writing. After I gave it to her, with I might add, huge trepidation, she told me she thought I was a writer. I guess the idea grew from there. I’d been struggling for a lot of years with the desire to be creative and now suddenly and surprisingly I’d found what I was looking for and I’ve been incredibly fortunate in subsequent years to have Wendy as a friend and mentor. I learned so much from her and we did many exciting things together in the prison including holding a literary festival parallel to the Durham Book Fest, where writers came into the prison to speak to the prisoners who were writing and to our reading groups.
  I wrote my first novel The Sweet Track, subsequently published by Flambard Press, while I was still working in the prison– it pays homage to the beautiful and mysterious Somerset Levels where I grew up. By the time it was published I had an agent, I’d had two actually but that’s a long story, and had written my second novel The Orchid House. My agent is wonderful. I love her but things are tough in her world as well as the world of the writer and, despite her enthusiasm, she hasn’t been able to sell either of my last two books. After a recent roller coaster of elation and disappointment with my latest offering, a crime novel, I was beginning to lose heart.
But then along came e-publishing and Kindle –just in the nick of time! It was actually my agent who suggested I go down this route and now I find my enthusiasm knows no bounds. I’ve had some wonderful feedback on The Orchid House - my first Kindle publication and I’m now very excited about getting my prison stories out there in a series Beyond The Mask - the first When You Hear The Birds Sing is out now. Next year I plan on publishing more stories and my crime novel.
Now that I know there’s an audience for my work and it won’t just moulder away in a drawer or remain out of sight in a file on a hard drive, I am full of writing. I’m excited again and enjoying what I do, and loving what you do seems to me to be the key when it comes to writing.
Although I’ve escaped from prison now, there’s barely a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t celebrate my new found freedom  - especially the freedom to just sit and write and I don’t forget the women behind bars many of whom are victims of crime themselves. I hope that my prison stories, as well as entertaining and engaging readers, will contribute to making their hidden lives more visible. Of course publishers have been known to say that readers are simply not interested in these difficult lives or in prison stories (unless they're some kind of Bad Girls or Prisoner Cell Block H Hype). As I'm sure you've gathered I disagree and I'd been interested to know what you think. After all, isn't this the great thing about e-publishing: many more options for writers and  readers?  What I like to think of as the new democracy.

More about my books and writing life  at   Tweets @Joy Avril


Susan Jane Smith B.Sc. said...

Great blog and interesting to read about you working in a prison.

I am sure you will have much success e-publishing.

Welcome to Autors Electric - I hope you find it as supportive as I have.

dirtywhitecandy said...

Avril - great to meet you, and what a unique perspective you must have.

Ann Evans said...

Welcome to Authors Electric Avril and what a fascinating post.

Rosalie Warren said...

You're an inspiration, Joy. I'm very inteersted to hear about your writing journey and pleased to meet you here (I'm new, too).

Linda Gillard said...

Terrific blog - one that makes you want to stand up and cheer for indie ebooks.

My agent was unable to sell my last 2 novels (and she couldn't understand why no one wanted them) so you have my sympathy on that front. But so pleased to hear you are enjoying your freedom - in all senses! ;-)