It was only five years ago, in retirement, that Andrea took up creative writing at Open University. Shortly after subsequently joining Touchstones Creative Writing Group (TCWG) she contributed prose and poetry to a Rochdale Co-Operative initiative anthologising new work commemorating the centenary of the battle of Gallipoli. Then, suddenly, she became, an award winning writer !

Her fellow writing group members were thrilled three or four years ago  when an edition of Writing Magazine carried Andrea Sarginson´s prize-winning entry in their Love Short Story competition and even added a photograph and brief biography of Andrea below the story’s title of Draw What You See.

The title of her work reminded all TCWG members of the writers’ maxim to ‘write what you know’ so it is not surprising that Andrea (left) admits her writing frequently reflects her working life expertise and experiences.

´My writing is largely inspired by my past career in medicine,” she told Sidetracks & Detours, “and by interest in the history of medieval art and the artwork of wars. My work also reflects my fascination with spirituality.´

Her story, about an old lady drawing a portrait in an art class and a struggle, perhaps, to inject emotion and honesty into her artwork, functions not only as a love story, but also as a compelling analogy of how all artists aspire to such realistic portraits, in whatever art form. Throughout the several years I spent facilitating TCWG I always urged our members to strive towards the kind of realism that triggers recognition in readers.

Ándrea worked harder than anyone in our group to ensure there was always a truth and integrity in her work, and she created realistic and recognisable characters and settings in much of her work.

´It is largely down to your teaching and superb criticism, and TCWG for the continuing motivation, that I have been able to achieve this,” she told me in an e mail when informing me of her success, but she was being far too modest.

It is true that we built up a healthy critique system at TCWG when I was there, with each member willing and able to offer constructive criticism of the work of any of their colleagues. Nevertheless, the skill of accepting such critiques is as difficult as that of making them, and I well remember how receptive Andrea was, not only to comments from the floor but also to my own more caustic, but just as well intentioned, remarks as facilitator.

Her writing always had a strong sense of time and place and I remember her constant willingness to accept new challenges.

Writing Magazine subsequently posted an ‘expert analysis’ of Andrea’s story on line and I know she read those comments for her further writing education. Now she is applying all that she learned whilst listening to critiques from me, comments from TCWG colleagues and from those expert and experienced judges who named her for the award.

A glance at her web site the other day revealed an Andrea Sarginson I had never quite seen. The somewhat shy and studious lady I remember from my group has stepped out, and is promoting her new novel, and has established a creative writing group of her own.

Andrea still lives in the Greater Manchester Area and since 2012 has been an Authorised Lay Minister in the Manchester Diocese. Although she first trained as a nurse, midwife and operating theatre nurse teacher she later studied as an art historian with particular interest in Christian art and stained glass. Before her retirement she was combining art and medicine as an Associate of The Arts For Health Department in Manchester Metropolitan University.

Andrea´s book cover

It was only after retirement that Andrea began to study creative writing, in an attempt to explore, and to explain, the interactions between faith, medicine and art. These themes, that she was beginning to unravel at TCWG whilst I was still the facilitator, are now the themes explored in her first novel Man Of Glass.

The novel is set in the spring of 1349, when a terrible plague is spreading like wildfire across England. The plot is based on some historical truths that seem to be re-surfacing in these dreadful times today.

The novel´s central character, Amalric, a gifted young glazing apprentice, dreads the arrival of the plague at his own village. He despairs at how the church responds to the threat and is appalled by the rampant superstition that pervades his village. Even he, though, feels that ominous portents seem to abound. Speaking of ´portents that seem to abound´ Andrea has noted the irony that as the book moved into publication we heard the first reports of a new, and similarly infectious disease to that described in the book, appearing in China.

Andrea tells Sidetracks & Detours that Man Of Glass is now available to order from Amazon, Kindle, Waterstones´ and W.H. Smith´s and other good book shops and has actually been on the shelves since 20th February.

She says she is ´not bothered about becoming the next JK Rowling´ and is simply pleased to have had a publisher say, ´yes, this is worth spending time on.´´ That publisher is a small company called Instant Apostle who, says Andrea, ´has been incredibly helpful and has kept me informed throughout the whole process.´

Instant Apostle work in a niche field, if a global religion can be called a niche field, but they are a young and vibrant publishing house committed to producing high quality books by new and experienced authors writing from a Christian perspective.

Their titles include original fiction and riveting autobiography, as well as books addressing urgent social issues and, of course, some profound spiritual questions. Their catalogue crosses all genres and includes authors from all backgrounds.

It is not always common practice these days for publishing houses to welcome submissions from anyone other than literary agents on their ´preferred´ list, but Instant Apostle say that if you have a gripping story to tell, a life-message to share or a burning issue to raise they would be delighted to hear from you. They suggest that if you have a completed manuscript or non-fiction book you should get in touch. They promise that every submission will receive a response, even if they believe they might not be the right company to publish your book

Andrea contacted them, and now is about to embark on a short tour of book signings ! That exclamation mark is hers, by the way, and I guess is meant to imply that the ´tour´ might hold some trepidation for her. I am sure, though, that whilst Andrea remains the modest person that I recall, she will have undoubtedly found, through her writing being published, a new level of confidence in meeting the public and talking about her work.

I detected some evidence of that new confidence when Michael Higgins, our frequent correspondent for Sidetracks And Detours, revealed in one of his articles (see our archives) that he had just joined a new writing group, The Travellers, of which a certain Andrea Sarginson is a co-founder.

Her novel, when I read it very early draft form, was gripping even if then not bedevilled by the context of Coronavirus. I never doubted Andrea´s determination or ability to see it through to publication and I had no doubts whatsoever that it would receive a positive response from readers and reviewers alike. Eileen Earnshaw, a former colleague of mine in the UK, has given the work glowing praise, and there is no doubt that Andrea´s book, that reminds of a short story by Pam McKee, called Grey Wolf, is very much now a novel of its time.

Speaking of Man Of Glass today, Andrea recognises that ´its significance has taken a new turn.´

¨When I started writing it´, she says, ¨Man Of Glass was simply a book about medieval stained glass and the first wave of a new pestilence (later known as the Black Death) By the time it was published, in England we were awaiting the arrival of Covid19. Now Covid19 is here and people who have read it tell me the account of the pandemic in my novel resonates very much with today´s situation, making it a topical read. I never thought as I wrote it, that Man of Glass would be prophetic – but there you are, who knows where writing can take us?´

When facilitating the creative writing group of which Andrea was a member I so often used to quote a line I heard from American songwriter Hugh Moffatt about how ´we must prepare what write for light years of travel.´ That would surely answer her rhetorical question above and she has somehow penned a novel that bridges seven hundred years of history.

Andrea told me in a recent e mail that she and her husband, John, are still in lock-down but OK so far. Her daughter and son-in-law work with the NHS so she obviously worries about them, ´but they are well so far – just frustrated and tired.´  

Society in the UK, she says, ´is getting a little frayed at the edges but no-one wants to see a second event (as with the Black Death!) so most people still avoid being close to each other. When it’s all over people like hairdressers will become really important. I just want to have a meal cooked for me!´

Andrea managed only two book signings before the lock-down and so had to cancel two others. Man Of Glass has not yet, then, benefitted from a proper launch but when she unveils it for a second time there is bound to be added media and public interest in a historical novel bound tightly to the present and possibly to a science-fiction style future.

I suspect, therefore, that her first novel won´t be her last, and I even look forward to her one day submitting an article to Sidetracks And Detours, whether it be it news, interview, preview or review of an artist or art work that impressed her. Perhaps one day she will be as proud of the writing of members of the Travellers group she has initiated as I was of texts produced by Andrea and her colleagues in my Touchstones Creative Writing Group.

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