I Am Such a Writer. (At Least, I Hope I Am).

I am a writer. It’s the one thing that I’m really good at, at least, I think I am. I’m also musical, but I’m not a good musician, like my niece, Denise, for instance, who, whilst I was struggling to learn to play the organ (and not very well), she was learning the violin, the guitar, the recorder, and the Melodia, (I’m not sure is she plays any other keyboard instruments) and she also managed to sing rather sweetly as well. Her daughter, Sara learned the piano, the flute, the guitar — and she also sings professionally, and very well too, (so beat that, Zoe!). So I can’t even pretend to be in the same league as the rest of my own family. My father was — by the way — a very good pianist and organist, which is why I got interested in the first place. Even my mother took up professional singing rather late in life, and was — I was told — a decent soprano. I can only sing two songs — one is God Save the Queen, and the other one isn’t. It’s the same with art. All right, I can draw and paint, moderately well, But my sister, Janet is a professional artist. She’s trained as an artist, exhibited her paintings and sold quite a few as well. And yes, I write music, and I’ve studied harmony, counterpoint, and composition to a high level, but no one is going to be very interested in any music I compose because I write a kind of Baroque pastiche for organ and harpsichord. When I play, you’re not going to get people clustering around the piano singing along. But I have fun with all these other things. I’m not that good at any of them, not really. I can show off and impress people for about five minutes with my party piece. But just let them stick around for longer than that and they’ll soon see the limitations of my technique and repertoire. And they may praise my drawing, but nothing in the way of a commission comes my way as with Janet. But what I always say is that the music and art, (as far as it goes) informs my writing skills. If my writing dries up, if I have ‘writers’ block’ I write a bit of music, or I draw something. And I return to writing refreshed.
It’s the writing that I put everything into. It defines me. I want my gravestone to say: ‘Zoe Nightingale-Butler — writer’, (not too soon, though, eh?) It’s writing I keep coming back to. I’ve never been one to stick at anything else. As a child, I wanted to be a scientist, I’m still passionate about science. I studied the scientific method at university and I did experiments and wrote a fairly weighty dissertation about biological determinism and creativity. But I could never be very good at science because I’m hopeless at mathematics. I failed GCSE maths three times at school. And I could never be really bothered to work at it and get better. It’s only the fact that I was competent in statistics, (which I learned at college and Uni) that stopped me from being a total hippie, (that and I was too cowardly to experiment with drugs). But writing is something else. I’ve studied English literature and literary criticism and grammar and form and structure, and I never tire of going back to studying language and poetry and prose and style. And I’m my own harshest critic. My only weakness is really that I’m so insecure. I never really believe that I’m good enough. There’s always a nagging feeling of self doubt looking over my shoulder, saying: “What if everything you write is just a string of trite, dated, overworked cliches?” But at the end of the day, I just shrug my shoulders and say, “Well, what if it is? If I write enough, and practise enough, maybe one day I’ll get good enough — and perhaps then, I will know I am a competent writer as well; because there’s bugger all else I’m good at!”


About Zoe Nightingale

I am a writer of short stories, novels, poetry and non fiction.
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