31 Letters in 31 Days: Letter 26 – Dear Bob Beagrie and Andy Willoughby

Dear Bob Beagrie and Andy Willoughby,

I don’t know where I’m going with this, but I’ll try my best to squeeze in at least some of the thanks I owe you guys. I’ll never forget that night I crept into my first, Boro literary event. I was nervous, shy and excited. The room was small, dark and humming with anticipation. People were settled into chairs, scribbling on pieces of paper and talking quietly amongst themselves. There was a little table with an assortment of publications scattered on top. I bought a book called ‘Writing on Our Bodies,’ then immediately wished I’d bought your collection, Bob, Masque: The Art of the Vampyre’ instead. But I was too embarrassed to go back and ask if I could swap it.

I think it was a Kenaz launch night you were hosting. It would have been one of the very early issues. I found out about it from a poster tacked to a Middlesbrough college notice board. I’d only just turned eighteen, and was desperate to get to know more literary folk in Boro. I say more, I didn’t know any in Boro. I was at the event with my mum, which was, of course, the epitome of cool. I remember watching people get up and perform, and I think it was you Andy who asked if I’d bought anything to read. I hadn’t but I wanted to be up there. I’d never wanted anything so much. I felt honoured and so proud that you had asked me. I was still ill at the time, my mind wasn’t completely my own, but I felt this immediate drive, this desire to present the writing I believed made life worthwhile. So that’s how it’s started. I’ve lost count of all the things you’ve done for me. The major event, the one where I really felt like I was becoming part of something, was the excellent free summer schools you held at Teesside Uni, where I met the likes of Morbid and Pam and Micheal Edwards.

You guys mentored me, supported me and pushed me to do better, to try and accomplish bigger things. You’ve read my attempts at novels and kindly published my poetry, you’ve let me shadow during workshops and had me involved in all sorts that have motivated me and, overall, made me a much more confident, positive, capable writer and human being. I count myself as being exceptionally lucky. You published my first piece of writing and when you let me interview writers for Kenaz, I felt like such an important person, someone who could make a difference. I started to believe in myself.

I have talked about you in every place I have visited. I am proud to call you my friends and mentors. Even though the mentoring scheme only lasted a year, you are both always teaching me. The both of you have helped me more than any psychiatrist could have. With your help, I have conquered my demons and chucked away the scraps they left behind. I have never existed with such clarity in my life. Thank you.