The first writers workshop I attended was held in a dark, dismal basement of a London Soho nightclub.
I rushed from the underground thinking I'd be late but I was the second member of the audience to arrive. In the loo, I shared a mirror with the first member, a 6ft 4" transvestite who had impeccable dress sense and a gorgeous blond wig but a voice so deep it would have impressed Barry White. We both touched-up our lip gloss.
Once inside the main room I was dismayed to see rows of dated red velvet-seated chairs squashed to capacity, dusty wooden floorboards and a tiny stage at one end. Behind the table on the stage I could see a very amateur-looking pirate ship obviously meant for some cheap theatre production.
My second dip of dismay was to see people arrive armed to the teeth with notebooks, paperback novels and business cards. The room soon filled and then the panel arrived - an agent who didn't once look directly at the audience, an old ex-actor who waxed lyrical about all the 'luvvies' he'd met and was very, very boring, a young illustrator with little to say, a traditional publisher who was part of the "Yah" brigade and an ePublisher who looked as though he had just stepped from a building site.
The next 2 hours was an excruciating experience. The panel began to paint a picture of struggle, despair and shattered dreams. During question time they were besieged. I could taste desperation in the air and realised that I was probably one of the few would-be writers in the room as I listened to tales of being bitten by sharks, hopes trampled underfoot and some writers had been hard at it for a number of years.
I came out into daylight feeling totally deflated and headed for the nearest pub. However, during the long train journey home I realised something had changed. It had been most probably the best workshop I could have attended. I may not have known what to expect or what I wanted but I came out of it knowing the worst and what I definitely didn't want to happen. I also knew the type of people involved in the industry.
The next day I listed a lot of new questions and knew I would have to learn a hell of a lot more before I even considered pitching my work to anyone.
Books about the publishing industry and advice are a great help but there's a huge difference between reading about it and then sitting with other authors and publishing professionals and soaking up the atmosphere with the lows and highs of what it is to write a book and then get it out there.
I dread to think what would have happened to my life's ambition if I hadn't sat in that miserable Soho basement on that fateful day and in hindsight, I met some of the bravest people I have ever met. They put themselves out there and believed in their work even if others did not and most impressive of all is that they persisted, picked themselves up after each knock and then re-invented their wheels.