Year One – Part One – On Writing

By Zoë Spencer

With our first birthday celebrations – yes, there was cake – and the release of our first book, Cars And Girls, we have decided to run a series of articles on the Pankhearst experience so far. And the truth is it’s been a bumpy ride.

It’s been a year since my best friend, Madeline Harvey, asked me if I’d like to join the Pankhearst collective. Her sister is a close friend of one of the founding members and when someone dropped out, Maddy leapt at the chance to replace her. When a second writer dropped out, my BFF suggested me.

I had to audition. It took two weeks to write a story I could submit to Pankhearst. And two hours for T and E to tell me I was in. I was very pleased then, and I’m even more pleased now. There was a period, however, when I wondered why the eff I’d bothered.

Maddy and Zoë taken from behind.
Maddy and Zoë taken from behind.

It’s been a lot like a love affair. Kind of. I didn’t really know what to expect when I first fell for Pankhearst, but the first few months were wonderful. I wrote. They advised, gave very constructive help, even built my now abandoned blog site for me. I also lost that awful feeling that I was writing alone. Even though Maddy is also a writer, we lived several hours apart and with her busy life we only got together once or twice a month. By joining Pankhearst, I found a wider community to lean on.

However, the first romantic flushes passed and real life intervened between aspiring young writer and dream. The charity I worked for laid me off. My new job, when I found one, requires extended periods away from home. My principal editor was in and out of hospital. And we let ourselves get distracted by a second project. Girls And Boys was supposed to publish in parallel with Cars And Girls. A collection of erotic short stories, it started off as a lot of fun but quickly turned to what I believe is known technically as Shit. Consequently, the impetus behind Pankhearst slowly dissipated. And that was a soul sapping experience.

Soul sapped
Soul sapped

But early this year, things picked up again. I got more computer time. Health problems resolved themselves. And we started the last big push towards releasing Cars And Girls.

The Kindle version was published yesterday, and it’s lovely. Well, not lovely. It’s kick-ass, bitchin’, and really very pretty good. Something I can be proud of.  I’m no longer In Love with Pankhearst, but we are definitely friends with benefits.

Beyond the obvious reward of seeing my writing in an actual paperback and ebook, and seeing my name up there on Amazon, the biggest benefit has been the way my writing has developed through my involvement with the group.

Think you can write? Wait until you’ve labored endlessly over your 15,000 word story only to get it back three days after you submit and be told you’re waffling and need to take at least 5,000 words out. That one chapter adds absolutely nothing to the story. And that two of your favourite sentences are “lame showboating”.

Wait until you hack that bad boy down to 11,000 words and resubmit it. To be sent it back two days later with another thousand words removed and virtually every paragraph dissected and commented to hell and back.

500 by Zoë Spencer
500 by Zoë Spencer

And wait until you realize that in seven cases out of every ten you agree with the point being made. It’s both humbling and helpful.

My story – it’s called 500 – is still all me. But I learned so much during the writing and editing phase that I am now a much more capable writer than I was before we started.  And not just because of things my editors taught me, but also because of the things I saw and learned by editing and commenting on other people’s stories. It’s amazing how you can see errors in other people’s work – or perhaps opportunities to improve – that you’re completely blind to in your own.

If I had carried on writing alone, without the help of Pankhearst, I would be another year old, deeper in debt, and barely improved at all as a writer.  It would have been a year wasted. I do not suggest that everyone should immediately sign up to join PH – we couldn’t cope and you wouldn’t feel the benefits – but I strongly recommend to anyone out there who aspires to be a writer that you get off your arses and find a group you can work with. Whether it’s your local writer’s group or people you meet on the internet – Pankhearst began on the Harper Collins website Authonomy – choose wisely, and once you’ve chosen be prepared to work really hard.

The cover for Girls And Boys
The cover for Girls And Boys

Here at Pankhearst, there is certainly no let up. The next step is a collection of YA short stories. After that, and in no particular order, we will be publishing a themed anothology  of erotica and a second volume of Cars And Girls. There may also be an erotic novel in the pipeline. And for Maddy and me, things are heading in a different direction. We have written a couple of hot and spicy sequels to our stories in Cars And Girls – which will be published when the time is right under the recycled title Girls And Boys – and we are now planning out a collaborative novel in which our girls and one of their cars will meet up in Las Vegas to … um … right wrongs, kill bad guys, and shit.

On the whole, I have enjoyed my time in Pankhearst, benefited a great deal, and I look forward to the year ahead. But I wouldn’t want to give the impression that it’s all plain sailing. Because it isn’t. Writing in a collective is a lot like everything else, you only get back what you put in, there are no free lunches, and every now and then you really want to punch someone in the face.


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