Tales From the Beautiful Isle has been sadly neglected lately, partly because the current cold, rainy weather is preventing many excursions, and partly because my time has been taken up with writing. One of the best things that has happened to me in Taiwan is that I've had the time and freedom to develop this side of my career.
Although I enjoyed my time teaching English and later managing educational programmes, I made a decision not to continue in education in Taiwan. There were many factors that weighed in on my choice. I'd spent a long time in education and, while I enjoyed my work, I never truly felt I was following my vocation. Another consideration was the state of the English teaching profession in Taiwan. Teaching English used to be a very well-paid job, but wages haven't risen for a couple of decades. There are also few career progression opportunities for foreigners within teaching or indeed most professions in Taiwan. I could go on, but there's been plenty written elsewhere about the disadvantages of being an English teacher here.
It's been my experience that many expats in Taiwan make a career change or generally take the opportunity to reinvent themselves, often in a creative field such as performance, art or writing. I joined Taipei Writers Group (TWG) three or four years ago, and it's thanks to the support of its members that I've made the transition from working in education to being a professional, full-time writer.
Here are some of the TWG crowd, in a photo kindly taken by Craig Ferguson.
We meet twice a month, reading and critiquing each other's work. Belonging to the group has made me work harder -- because I want to have something to submit in time for a meeting -- and my writing has benefited enormously from receiving friendly feedback. If you're interested in finding out more about TWG, you can read their blog, or sign up to the Facebook page.
Another advantage of being a member of TWG is that I get to participate in our book launches. The group has published three anthologies: Taiwan Tales, Night Market and, most recently, Peak Heat. Our Peak Heat launch took place last weekend and nearly fifty people turned up to hear about the book and the other work of authors in the group, such as Patrick Whalen's Deadman Bay and Bradley Verdell's series, The Adventures of Chadwick Yates.
Ted Pigott drew some amazing sketches of each reader. (How do artists work so fast?)
Despite my years of teaching, I find it nerve-wracking to stand in front of an audience and read my work aloud. I take water with me because my mouth becomes as dry as a bone, and I sit down -- if I faint I'm closer to the ground! But audiences are always gracious and clap politely. The best part of every event is meeting with the audience and discussing books, writing, living in Taiwan, their backgrounds and experiences and whatever else comes up. It's a great way to make new friends and connect with other groups and organisations.
In fact, that's the best thing about TWG. While the motivation and feedback I get from the group are invaluable, it's the friendship and camaraderie that matter to me the most.