Roberta J Dewa: Author and Lecturer
I was a novelist before I was ever an academic, and I remain a writer by temperament and aspiration. In the 1980s, I published three historical novels with Robert Hale, but after my mother’s early death in 1983, I didn’t write for a long time, and when I began again my writing had become more serious and complex. In 1990 I returned to the formal education I had never completed and entered the University of Nottingham as a mature student, taking my BA, MA, and PhD in English Literature. I stayed on at university as a teacher, lecturing in language studies and running my own course in Creative Writing. While I was studying for my degrees, my own writing had to take second place, but it never went away. I continued to develop my understanding of the craft of writing, publishing poetry, reviews and short fiction in the small presses, both print and online; but I returned to the challenge of full-length works in 2005, when I embarked on the Creative Writing MA at Nottingham Trent University. My recently published novel The Esplanade (Weathervane Press, 2014) is about loss of voice and identity. And my memoir The Memory of Bridges, (Glass Tortoise, 2013) narrates the reclamation of a troubled past, and a return to the village of my childhood. Extracts from both works can be read on this website.
November is often a 'head down' time for writers, and I'm no exception, working on the first draft of what I hope will be a new novel about the lives of people who found themselves cut adrift by the closure of the old mental hospitals. As I know from experience, this is likely to be quite a long writing journey, and therefore I'm glad also to be keeping up with the work of others in my memoir writing group, as well as pursuing my love of abstract and unusual visual art. I'm also a strong defender of libraries, and continue to be part of a lively book group which meets at Nottingham Central on the third Tuesday of the month - do get in touch if you'd like to join us.
It's probably anything but coincidence that I've chosen to write about life-changing experiences for my next project, as I retired from the University of Nottingham as a lecturer at the end of the academic year, and as with other stages in my career that have been significant, there has been both sadness and celebration - a time of loss and a time of freedom, both of which are testing. But as someone who entered the university as an undergraduate at the age of 36, I remain a passionate believer in lifelong learning, and keeping all those interests going - you never know where they will lead you!
In May 2014 The Esplanade was published by Weathervane Press (www.weathervanepress.co.uk), and on May 7th there was a really enjoyable launch at the Five Leaves bookshop in Nottingham. I think everyone had a great time - I know I did! - the evening kicked off with some socializing and wine-drinking, Ross Bradshaw said some kind words about me (including revealing to the world my former life as a devotee of the TV Prisoner series - the Patrick McGoohan creation, not the Cell Block H one). Ian Collinson said some more kind words, and I gave some short readings from the novel and answered a few questions, including trying to work out which parts of your life you reveal in a novel, as opposed to a memoir - I'm still thinking through the answer to that one! We drank some more wine, people bought books, and everyone agreed what a great venue the shop is. Below are a couple of photographs of the event. Thanks to everyone, and especially Ross, Ian, and Megan (all in the group photo below!)
(Below, publishers and writers: Ross Bradshaw, Giselle Leeb, Robbie Dewa, Ian Collinson and Megan Taylor).
Last year I was pleased to have the memoir longlisted in the Mslexia Memoir Writers Competition, and although it's been a while now since its publication it will be good to revisit all things memoir at the course for Writing East Midlands (see top of this news column for more details). Back in the city, there are always great events featuring writers local and not so local at Nottingham's new independent bookshop, the Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham. Check out www.fiveleavesbookshop.co.uk for more on these.
Some time ago I was interviewed on the subject of memoir writing by Elaine Aldred for her splendid blog, and the interview is available in her archive: see http://strangealliances.wordpress.com for this and other fascinating stuff about the process of writing. I was also recorded on video by Andrew Kells of the Nottingham Writers' Studio (thanks Andrew!) reading an extract from my memoir; this should be accessible on Youtube. An unusual experience with the camera as audience!
Since the launch in 2013 of the memoir at the Meadows Library in Nottingham I've learned a lot about trying to promote my work. Most of all I've learned how generous writers and book lovers are, and how much help and support they give to one another. The launch was a very special moment for me, held in the library where both I and my mother worked, and where my mother met her first fiance during the war, but it was also special to have all those friends from the writing community and elsewhere present. Thanks again to everyone who came, and also to those who have since bought the book - and of course to my husband Peter for endless help behind the scenes!
If you are interested in the memoir, and would like to know more about the book and how you can get hold of it, you can email me through the contact page, email@example.com., but the book is also available from The Bookcase, Lowdham, a really excellent bookshop, (www.thebookcase.co.uk) and can be ordered from Stray's in Newark, where they have not only lovely books and staff, but also a cafe and jazz events (check out www.strayscoffee.co.uk and www.straysbooks.co.uk). It's also now available at Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham.
Do check back next month for further news,