There’s a difference between knowing and feeling that you’re a writer and having it confirmed by someone else. The words ‘This is Bill Kirton. He’s a writer’ give me a wee buzz of pleasure each time I hear them and when I visit libraries, bookshops and other places for talks or signings, there’s the same secret pride at seeing a notice with the words ‘Writer Bill Kirton’ on it somewhere. But I’m careful to put that pride in perspective because, in the end, I can’t really take full credit for being a writer. Like others with specific skills, I happened to be born with a set of genes that equipped me to put words together in certain ways and to enjoy doing so. OK, you need the discipline to make yourself sit and write, and stamina to persist with a novel, play, short story, poem. But that’s true of everyone who’s exercising a particular skill, however elevated or commonplace it may be.
It was best summed up for me many years ago when I came out of a meeting of academics (which is what I used to be). A friend of mine, Vic, had also sat through the proceedings. He’s a graphics artist and, rather than doodling on his pad or snoring his way through the meeting, he’d occupied the time by sketching perfect little pencil portraits of some of the people there. They were beautiful and I envied his talent. When it was all over and we were walking back to our respective rooms, I told him how much I enjoyed seeing his drawings and added ‘Vic, I don’t know how you can do that’.
‘Bill, I don’t know how you can’t.’
That encapsulates beautifully the mysterious business of exercising a talent. If we’re lucky and we get the chance to do so, it comes naturally. Taking pride in your work is one thing but being proud of ‘being a writer’ is another. I’d love to have got the drawing gene but I didn’t. I’m very glad, though, that I got the one for writing and grew up in an age and a place where I had the chance to use it.