In December 2017, frustrated by yet another standard rejection letter from a literary agent, I started this blog. Since I was a dorky teenager I’ve had a compulsion to write stuff. Poems, novels, short stories… I had computers and notebooks stuffed with bits and pieces I’d written over the last thirty plus years.
Every now and then I’d read The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and follow their advice with fierce concentration. I’d send off my latest book to a carefully curated list of ten or so literary agents. And… Nothing. Nothing would happen. Mostly, they didn’t even reply.
So, in December 2017 here I was. Starting this blog. The compulsion to write got worse as I got older. I wrote like a maniac and went against all the sensible advice about saving up your articles and just flooded my blog with posts. About my eyes, about my stillbirth, about my Dog, my family, my weight…
Then one day I found the beginning of a chapter I’d written about a very old woman with a very bad temper and some magical powers. With my bowels quailing with nerves I posted it to see what people thought. The response was quite kind and one blogger asked ‘what happened to the boy?’ (In the chapter a lad is carried out to an ambulance).
As soon as she said this an entire story unfurled in my head. Characters, settings, plots, they were all there. So I sat down and started writing it.
Two years later I finished it. A 120,000 words long novel. It was so big and had been such a pain in the backside to write and I had re-written it so many times I lost all perspective. It’s a pile of rubbish, I thought.
WIthout much hope I sent it to some agents. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. All standard rejections except for two responses. One said, ‘I don’t like the characters’ and another wrote this…
This, strangely, gave me hope. It wasn’t that I was a bad writer, it was that it wasn’t an easy sell.
Sod it! I thought. I’ll self publish it, and in April 2020 I did. The Woman and the Witch (still available on Amazon!) As of today it has an unbelievable SIXTY SEVEN reviews averaging at 4.9 out of 5.
After self-publishing this book but feeling it wasn’t ‘proper’ writing, I thought I’d try getting ‘proper’ published again. As Peter Buckman had been so kind to take the time to write a thoughtful email rather than the standard rejection letter, I sent him another book I had up my sleeve. To which I got a standard rejection letter. Ha!
Undaunted, I sent him another book, a thriller I’ve been working on, and this time he sent this.
Self-publishing is a route ‘plenty of excellent writers are taking’ he said. Finally the ridiculous shame about getting rejected by literary agents fell away. If Peter Buckman thought self-publishing was a good thing then I was all for it.
It’s a cliche and I can’t believe I’m saying it as it sounds so trite but let me tell you, straight from the heart, if you’d told me in December 2017 that in 2020 I would have published a novel and a collection of short stories I simply would not have believed it to be possible.
Mind you, there’s a lot that’s happened in 2020 that I wouldn’t have believed but moving swiftly on…
I wonder what my fourteen year old self would have thought? Back then I was writing terrible, self-conscious and heavily Plath influenced poems with which I overwhelmed the editor of the school magazine. I sent her twenty-seven poems of which two were published. This is one of them.
To anyone out there who has that writing compulsion I’d say keep at it! And if nobody will publish you then self-publish. But I would also say be prepared to make sacrifices.
Writing these books has been the hardest thing I’ve done. Hours and hours over years and years of time. In that time I’ve ignored my family, stayed up until 2 or 3 in the morning as I also had a full time job. Thankfully as a teacher I had the holidays, but it still had to take second place to things like housework and spending time with the children.
Realising that the 25,000 words you’ve just written have taken yourself down a cul-de-sac is heartbreaking. You fight and fight and try re-working it then realise it’s not going to happen. Press delete. Horrible.
But seeing my paperback in the hands of people in a real shop made it all worthwhile. Well, it did for me, I’m not sure Rob and the children would agree with me.
So my next book is now out. Written over the lockdown but – I hasten to add! – not ABOUT the lockdown, here are six stories, It’s out now in paperback and available to pre-order on Kindle.
In it are stories inspired by my 96 year old grandmother who wanted to sit under a horse chestnut tree, an unlikely love story about a Kent mechanic and a Swedish Viking, and a triumphant tale about a sixty-seven year old weightlifting widow. I also couldn’t help going back to visit Frieda and Angie from The Woman and the Witch, who surprised me by breaking out a woman in peril who was trapped in an old folks’ home.
Do have a look and let me know what you think. It’s only a few quid on Kindle – less than a coffee from starbucks!
So take it from me. Whether it’s writing that novel or getting down to the gym or out on your bike, it really is never too late. Rather than spending hours thinking things like ‘why didn’t I go into writing when I was twenty instead of teaching? Why did I listen to my granddad and go for the secure pension rather than following my dream?’ (I did this a lot as I approached my 50th birthday) Shut yourself up and think, as I did, I wasn’t ready then. I do need a secure pension as I’m so crap at saving money. I love teaching and the years I’ve spent working and living have given me all the ideas that are now coming out in my books.
Sit down and think what’s stopping you? What’s stopping you starting up that farm in Wales, moving to France, learning the piano, going on that art course? Work it out and then try and remove the thing that’s holding you back. Don’t get to the end of your life and think oh, is that it? But hang on, I never got to… Do it NOW! Think. If not now, then when? What have you got to lose?
Otherwise, life has been busy. Dog still has her yeasty ear despite me and Son dosing her up daily with the ear drops, dutifully ‘manipulating the ear cartilage until it makes a squishing noise.’ It’s looking a bit better today so I hope she’s on the mend.
She LOVED having us around all the time over Lockdown and was very sad when we all went back to school and work. On the second day of term I couldn’t find her and looked everywhere before discovering her curled up in a sorry little ball on Son’s bed.
In other wonderful news, I am teaching The Life of Pi to my Year 10s. It’s a lovely, lovely book and I decided to invest in the Audible version so they could listen to it for a chapter or two as well as reading it themselves.
There’s one brilliant, brilliant scene where three holy men quarrel over Pi who has been attending Catholic church services, Muslim prayers at the mosque as well as the Hindu temple. The narrator we were listening to read this bit brilliantly. His different accents meant the scene came alive and jumped off the page, revealing the great humour of the encounter.
This guy is brilliant! I thought. He even managed to capture the Indian accented Canadian cadences Pi would have had after moving to Canada. I looked to see who narrated it to find the name Sanjeev Bhaskar.
Hang on! I thought. I know that name. He’s one of my favourite actors, I loved him in Goodness Gracious Me and The Indian Doctor but most of all in Unforgotten. (Do have a look, they are all brilliant.
So I put this post on my Instagram tagging him in (I love his IG name, it’s @tvsanjeev) saying how much my class had enjoyed his reading of the novel.
To which did he not only reply…
But he then reposted!
It made my day! I thought it was so cool. I showed my class. I hoped they’d find it really exciting but they weren’t overly impressed. However, I did notice a whole load of them had gone onto Instagram to like his post. Bless. I wonder if he realised why a whole host of teeenageers was liking his post? I hope he worked out that was the class who had enjoyed his reading so much.
Facebook Saved the Day
Rob (who does all the cooking) was moaning the other day that he had run out of ideas and was fed up with cooking and the kids never ate it and… etc etc.
So I went to Facebook in desperation for ideas of something that wasn’t spag bol, roasts, fajitas and pork chops and their suggestions were mind blowing and rather shaming as we had definitely got stuck in our ways.
Inspired by the lists of dishes suggested by my friends Rob rose to the challenge and looked through some recipes and produced these gorgeous things…
Don’t they look fantastic? OK, so the kids picked out EVERY SINGLE piece of sweetcorn, the lunatics, but apart from that it was a great success. Thank you, Facebook friends!
It was burritos and risotto after that so we’re feeling very smug and fancy at the moment. I’m sure it won’t be long until we are back on shepherds’ pie and spag bol, though.
Finally, I have now added to the list of things I have bought with the money I earned from selling my novel. I have resolved to only buy beautiful things that make me happy so here they are! What do you treat yourself with?