Jacqueline Crooks’ debut novel Fire Rush was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and has been described by the Washington Post as ‘an exceptional and stunningly original novel.’
Born in Jamaica and growing up in 70s and 80s Southall, part of London’s migrant community, Jacqueline uses her upbringing to inform her work, writing in Jamaican Nation Language. As part of our November Writers’ Room series in partnership with the Working Class Writers Festival, she taught us to break rules, experiment and celebrate our authentic voices. We’ve rounded up some of her top tips so that you can do the same.
Learn to let go
‘Write without ambition, without aim, inhibition, judgement or censure. Embrace words that are misshapen and misspelt. The key is to not to stop to think. When we start thinking, our inner critics start to tell us we don’t know what we’re doing, it’s not good enough, so don’t stop writing.’
Be part of a community
‘I think the key to being a good writer is to do lots of workshops. I do workshops every two months or so and have done so for twenty years. They’re fun. I meet new writers, I get new ideas, it stimulates me and keeps me writing. If there is one piece of advice I can give is keep doing writing courses. It keeps you inspired, it keeps you energised.’
‘Vent anger onto a page without censorship. Because when we’re angry, we let go of facts and truths. We’re usually powered by pure imagination. We often draw on our unique voices. When I’m angry the real me comes out and my voice switches to Jamaican patois. We don’t censor ourselves when we’re angry. If you can get that voice, you can use it outside those intense feelings to create powerful writing that connects with audiences. I connected with my inner rage to write Fire Rush. That was a starting point for me, I was able to tap into that style and within anger there’s often a beautiful power we want to get to.’
Banish writer’s block
‘I don’t believe in writer’s block. Writer’s block is just my inner critic saying “you can’t do this.” I just ignore it, I just allow myself to write because if I go into the page expecting to write something good all the time then I won’t write. I think that’s what writer’s block is – when you think you’ve gotta write something amazing. I just say “whatever happens today, whatever comes out, let it be” and I never have writer’s block.’
Writing Exercise: Your life, your words
Write your life story in six sentences, in six minutes. After that, read it out loud and think about the qualities of your voice that you like? What are the qualities of your voice that you don’t like? Think about energy, flow, rhythm, tone, pace, timbre and colour. What are the qualities of your voice that are unique to you? Finally, in another six minutes, choose one of the six sentences and build on it, drawing on your voice and style.
‘For me, accessing my unique language and style, writing about my life is a way into that. It’s a challenge in six minutes but it’s a way of turning off that inner critic.’
Remember to keep an eye on our events page for upcoming events and workshops , with more wisdom from authors and publishing industry experts. Sign up to the Women’s Prize newsletter to be the first to know when the next workshops are announced.