Sheila Cohen is a Scottish author who resides in East Anglia. Over the years, Sheila has taken part in a variety of workshops and events at the National Centre for Writing. She is an advocate for mentoring and self-publishing. In 2014, she published her self-help book How to Have a Great Day Off, and published her first collection of short stories, Spanish Pottery in 2018.
How long had you been writing before you started participating in events with NCW?
I have always written. In many different ways – it’s true – but I have always loved to write. I really enjoyed my degree in French and Art History at Glasgow University, writing essays on French Literature and works of art, but alongside this and also during my 27 years as a French teacher, I always found time to write down whatever was important to me at any time. After I retired from teaching, I self-published How to Have a Great Day Off – a humorous self-help book which was quite a family project in the end and taught me about the practicalities of formatting and design in publication. But throughout all of this, I was jotting things down, thinking up ideas for stories. I knew I would write stories. I had been to a few workshops at NCW and felt it was time to begin.
“being in an open creative space to exchange ideas was really important to me…”
What have you enjoyed most about the workshops and events?
For me, it was being with a community of writers for the first time, where writing and development was at the forefront. I had been in formal education for a long time and had recently completed a creative writing course through the Open University. So, being in an open creative space to exchange ideas was really important to me. I was able to learn techniques. The sessions with Katri Skala enabled me to develop my writing while gain knowledge of publication which was a whole new territory for me.
What has the journey to publication been like for you?
I have always been sure of my intentions. I was a founding member of the Working Mothers Association in London – I’m used to challenging the norm. When I sent my first book to a few different publishers and got rejected, I decided I didn’t want to carry on down that road. I want to write what I want to write about and if that doesn’t suit the trends of publishing industry, that’s okay. When I entered some stories for competitions without success, I knew I could self-publish again.That’s where mentoring with Katri really helped. She showed me why some stories worked better than other and what would make a good story even better – what could be taken out and what strengthened. Her encouragement inspired me to choose 10 stories and edit carefully for publication.
“you have the freedom to explore and the control to conserve your artistic expression…”
Would you consider self-publishing again?
Absolutely. I have a loose idea of a novel that’s neither illustrated fiction nor a graphic novel but involves art, travel and writing. That’s what I love about self-publication, you have the freedom to explore and the control to conserve your artistic expression. I have so many anecdotes from my trips and family holidays abroad, and cupboards filled to the brim with sketches. I enjoy the process of assembling these materials bit by bit – I suppose the book would reflect this.
What are your top tips for aspiring writers?
Define your goal. Before you start, ask yourself what the story or book is about and follow that direction. Allocate time. Writing is time consuming and it can’t be seen as a hobby. Treat it like work with clear parameters and deadlines. Try mentoring. It is the most productive way of getting your words on the page. Events are useful and inspiring but when you are mentored, you must present something, you can’t delay the process.