From There to Here
Kate Swindlehurst on her writing journey – via a Parkinson’s diagnosis, winning a place on our Escalator talent development scheme and the Argentine tango

Ten years ago, newly freed from a lifetime of teaching by a diagnosis of Parkinson’s, I considered my options. Despite my love of the landscape of rural north-east Cumbria, after years of driving everywhere, squeezing writing into the spaces in between, I was ready for a change. A year camping out on my brother’s couch in Cambridge helped me towards a distinction in the creative writing MA at Anglia Ruskin University and an Arts Council Escalator Award for emerging writers. And I emerged! A research trip to Argentina, a first draft of a novel dealing with the disappeared and interest from agents and publishers at the Escalator showcase were the evidence: this was it. I was a writer. I had arrived.

The next eight or nine years followed a path familiar to many: a laborious rewrite of the novel, a ‘nearly but not quite’ response from publishers and the advice to ‘put it in a drawer and get on with the next’. The next was a new departure, following my interest in the natural world and its importance for a healthy life: a residency at the Botanic Garden in Cambridge, also supported by Arts Council England, and a short story collection inspired by the garden. Some luck with individual stories but no success placing the collection. 2015: suddenly it seemed as if half the world was on the move. Horror and disbelief combined with visits to the Calais camp with local volunteers to prompt a return to the political and the seeds of a new novel, set in Bulgaria, based on our responses to the refugee crisis. The Station Master won a full manuscript appraisal in Adventures in Fiction’s Spotlight competition for new writers with the sobering result: more rewriting!

Meanwhile, I still had Parkinson’s, of course. In Cambridge, though, I’d rediscovered my passion for Argentine tango and found others keen to explore how a dancer with the condition could be helped to dance well. I’m not sure at what point this became an exploration of the therapeutic potential of the dance or quite when our early interest in the research became an article and then a book. Several drafts and abortive attempts at self-publishing later, Parkinson’s & the Tango Effect: my Year on the Dance Floor was launched with crowd-funding publisher Unbound just before Christmas. Creative non-fiction is probably the most accurate description and Unbound’s creative approach to publishing seems the ideal partner.

A writer? people say. How lovely! So where can I buy your books? I watch their eyes glaze over when I reply and wonder if I’m any further forward. How will I ever emerge fully? Most days I answer my own question: just like walking, one word then another. I’m heartened by a recent tweet from a favourite author, Jonathan Taylor: ‘Never liked the term “Masterclass”. There’s no such thing as a “Master” of writing. We’re all beginners always.’ As in tango…

You can support the publication of Kate’s memoir by visiting the Unbound page, watching the video and making a donation in exchange for a range of unique rewards.

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