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Sue Orton finished the Life Writing Programme in 2022 and has since self-published her memoir Gathering Threads, which she started during the course. Here she talks about her writing journey 

When do you first remember wanting to be a writer? I don’t remember wanting to be a writer.  I have always been a writer.  I found I had a voice on this course.

Why did you decide to join the Life Writing Programme?  In 2018-19 I had experienced a debilitating skin trauma over my whole body. Shame leaking out of me. Therapy, writing poetry and my own inner wisdom determined that this was a final physical ‘coming out’ of my many years of hidden lesbian shame. Once healthy, I needed to write. To track back. To gather threads of my trauma. Although I had written and published before, this was different. I wanted to learn to tell my own story, to learn the skill, learn dialogue, trust. Could I write? How would I write? Did I have a voice?

And how did you find out about it? I knew about this Creative Writing programme and its reputation for developing a peer learning community which I sought.  After experiencing a Taster day for the Life Writing Programme I decided to join.

What was the most impactful element of the course for you? Finding my voice.  Reading other memoirs. Gaining confidence in my ability to fashion my memoir how I wanted it.

What happened after the course finished? I continued to write. I was finishing this.  I identified two or three very experienced allies to read and help. It was an iterative process. Difficult. Long. At times tedious.  I employed my course tutor Lulah Ellender to help me get the final chapters and structure finished. She was amazing.  “Just send me the final chapter.  Tomorrow!”

How did you finish your memoir and self-publish? With tenacity, determination. With dogged persistence. I didn’t want my story misrepresented so I wanted to complete it myself.  I sought feedback. I listened.  I found a designer. I chose style and colours. I arranged proofreading. I found a printer. I decided on ISBN. I was very persistent. It was difficult and exhausting.  Very difficult and then very exhausting. Nothing whatsoever about writing. At last it was ready. I am absolutely delighted with the look the feel and the presentation of Gathering Threads.  I sell my book via my website www.sueorton.co.uk . The feedback and response I have had has been quite amazing.

Tell us about your memoir.

July 3rd 2019. Suffolk. Three women on holiday. Wooded. Coastal. Perfect

“Can you look at my back, I’ve got itching in the small of my back where I can’t reach?”

“There are two small patches like a rash. They are small. It’s probably nothing.” 

Two days later

“I’m feeling a bit rough, my body aches. I wonder if it’s related to that rash?

The beginning. It took 18 months. My ecdysis. Shedding of trauma through the skin.

I’m looking at my life, untangling, to discover where the trauma, the rash, the thick yellow cracking and bleeding layers on hands, feet, face and neck, was seated, was hiding. Were there threads of confidence and courage which held and healed me?

This memoir weaves prose, poetry and text messages to create an intriguing tapestry that examines how trauma finds its way into, and out from, the body. It dives into the past to reveal the impact of hiding our true identities and of family secrets.

It is a love letter. To my allies, to the sea and to the loom on which I weave, gathering threads and creating beauty.

Slowly I discover, the intensity of my tumblings, through childhood, boarding school, family break up, marriage and lesbian denial.  I realise too, it was only when I was loved and safe. I could fall apart and heal.

Now, cycling along the coast path, in my yellow helmet, I realise how happy, how me, really me, I am.  I shout …
“I’m safe, I’m alive!” 

Whats next for you? Life. Life lived to the full without dragging a bag of shame around. Laughter, mischief. Weaving and summer swimming.

Do you have a dayjob in addition to your writing career and, if so, how do they complement one another?  I am a weaver, poet and now writer.  They are beginning to dance together. I have no plans to write. My weaver is taking centre stage after several years in the wings.

What are your top tips for someone starting out in their writing career? Just write. Trust yourself.  Find kindred spirits. Then write some more.