Taking the plunge
I’ve thought quite a lot about how I became a writer, because it wasn’t something I aspired to be for a long time. I had quite a lot of jobs, not loads, but a few. After leaving school, I worked in a hospital preparing microfiche and locating medical records. It was pretty soul destroying. Then I worked in Pathology. Lunchtimes are never that pleasant when you work in Pathology (believe me, you deal with some grotty stuff!) After that, I worked in a counselling centre for people with alcohol and drug problems. It was interesting, rewarding, and at times a tad hair-raising. Then I worked in a University arranging reunions for graduates and deputy-editing two magazines – the first time writing had been a part of any of my jobs. I also worked for a while in an Italian restaurant as a waitress. Then sixteen years ago, having finished a part-time degree in history and literature, and having cemented my love of literature and books, I gave up my full-time University job, gave up my house, and moved with my hubby to Yorkshire, three hours drive away from family and friends, with this idea that I wanted be a writer. It had been niggling away at me and I felt I had to do it. I’m not sure why I felt I needed to move location to do this, but I did. It was a big step. I needed to move on, and I suppose it was my way of saying that I meant it.
We moved to a small, run down, terraced cottage in a West Yorkshire village, Cullingworth, close to Howarth – Bronte country – moors dancing with purple heather, cobbled lanes that the Bronte sisters would have walked along to get to church. We had our son and I researched writing children’s picture books and had a go at one or two stories. I temped for a while, and worked part-time in a garden centre. I still didn’t feel like a real writer. I wasn’t trying hard enough and I wasn’t spending enough time at it.
Then we moved to Derbyshire, had my daughter, I trained as a teacher, taught adults English, but I still continued to write. Somehow, in the spaces between family stuff and teaching, I had my first two children’s picture books published. This might sound strange, but even when Piccadilly Press published my next two books, Ruby and Grub, and Grub in Love, I STILL didn’t really think of myself as a writer, not really. I felt like I was just playing at it and getting lucky. Everyone else who wrote a book seemed to be a proper writer. I was just doing it in the spaces between everything else and I felt as if my luck would run out.
Then earlier this year something changed all of that and made me finally take the plunge.
The jolt happened when I overheard a radio interview with comedian John Bishop. John used to be a pharmacist and was talking about his decision to give this up to do stand up comedy ‘as a job’ not just on a part-time basis, as he had been. He said that he knew he’d never really make it in comedy if he didn’t put all his time and energy into it and that he realised he had to take the risk. I held my breath as I listened. He was talking about me!.. of course, he wasn’t really talking about me – heavens, I’m not that self-absorbed – but it could have been me. Something in my head clicked and I knew he was right. I knew that he had done the right thing – he had followed his dream.
I knew then that I had to take the plunge – not just stick my toe in the water, but dive in. So I halved the time I taught, cutting down to just three classes a week, and gave up teaching GCSE English, which I loved, but which was very time-consuming and involved a lot of marking. It was very scary! But then I really started writing, or that was how it felt, and in three months I wrote a manuscript for 6-9 years, one for 9-11 years, re-wrote two old picture book stories, re-wrote a lot of poems, and wrote the first quarter of my first YA novel. I was also working on Buttercup Magic: A Mystery for Megan, which Piccadilly Press had said they wanted to publish, but which needed a lot of editing. Of the poems I re-wrote, one of these, Buried Treasures, was published last month (see blogpost 11th November), and one was commended in this year’s Thynks poetry competition. Scary as the decision had been, I knew then that I had made the right decision. I had known that I couldn’t write as hard or as much as I wanted to unless I had more time and energy for it. It was the difference between saying “I’m a teacher and I write a bit,” to saying, “I’m a writer, but I also teach English.” In my head, that made a big difference!
I know it’s not the same for everybody and that circumstances mean that we can’t always dedicate all our time to our dreams, but for me, it was something I had to do, and now I have to make it work. I have to write the words, even on the days when it’s hard and I don’t always feel like writing them.
I’ve now sent the two children’s book manuscripts and re-writes of picture books to an agent. I’ve kind of avoided this in the past and always dealt with publishers direct. But I felt that now was the right time – all part of me viewing this as my job I think. It has been no less scary than any other submission I have ever made. I had rejections pre-publication, and I still get them, and they still make my heart sink every time. Each submission is as angst-ridden as the last. Each book is as hard to write as the one before and as full of moments of self-doubt – but also, as full of joy.
I don’t need to wait to see whether the extra input into my writing will pay off – I am happier, so I already know that it has. When I made that decision, sixteen years ago, to uproot and ‘be a writer’, based on some whim, little did I know then that I was answering some truth within me, and however hard it’s been, and still is at times, I am doing the thing I am meant to do.
It was the interview with John Bishop that finally made me realise I needed to follow my dream. Are you following your dream, and if not, what would it take to make you follow it?