Author Moira Bennett is the definition of a later bloomer – having started her career in the arts in her fifties, and commenced writing books in her late eighties. Moira talked to us about her writing career, and gave us her top tips for writing success.
Recently widowed in the early 1980s, with a young son to support, Moira began work at the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies – co-founded by composer Benjamin Britten and the singer Peter Pears. She went on to work at the Barbican Centre, supporting a series of international arts festivals, before working with the London Symphony Orchestra.
She recently published her second book, ‘Change of Key – From Africa to Arts’, an account of her childhood and adolescence in South Africa, the impact of the Second World War and the Apartheid years on the country, and her career in the arts in later life.
My first book came about when I was talking to a colleague, complaining that there was no written history of the Britten-Pears school. After a while no one would remember all the things that happened there – and I thought lots of people would be interested. And he said to me,“Well why don’t you write it?” I’d never thought of such a thing, but decided that I would. It took three years of research. Three colleagues and I formed a publishing company, The Bittern Press and published it. By a stroke of luck Boydell and Brewer (an academic publishing company based in Suffolk) took over the marketing and distribution of the book for us. Making Musicians was published in 2012, and was named as one of Classical Music Magazine’s ‘Books of the Year’.
There was a very specific audience for the Making Musicians book. It’s more difficult to say who the audience is for my autobiography – again, people who are interested in classical music, but also people with an interest in Africa. It’s a life lived in the context of extraordinary events.
I tried to separate myself, distance myself to write without getting emotionally involved. Some parts were harder to write than others. It took about two years to finish it. For the first draft, a friend read it critically, and then I redrafted it. I gave the reworked draft to the editor, who saved me from jail by saying “You can’t say that!” about things I’d written. There were about three drafts in all – not totally revising the whole thing of course, but just changing sections.
Know Your Target Audience
I do think that there is a huge difference between writing professionally, and writing as an amateur. You can choose which one you are. I’ve got nothing against non-professionals, of course. It just depends what you want to do with your writing, if you’re writing for friends and family, or for a wider audience. I suppose I do feel now, after two books, that I’m a professional. For example a tailor might have a green silk in stock. He decides to make a suit out of it, hoping that someone will like it and buy it. But a real professional will know exactly which person he’s making it for, the measurements, the precise style.
Words of Advice
Sometimes you feel as though you’re rather be doing anything else. But my tip to anyone who really wants to write at any age is – just do it! Start writing, get words on the page, go from left to right, until it’s finished.