I never wanted to be an author. There are author friends I know who maintain that from the age they could staple paper together, they knew they wanted to be a writer. Not me. I wanted to be a hairdresser when I was five and a kindy teacher when I was eleven and for a few years I wanted to be a travel guide in Greece because Greece. And then, when I was fifteen I was visiting my bestie in hospital and there were nurses all around in those cute old fashioned hats taking blood pressures and giving out pills and it hit me like a bolt from the blue – I wanted to be a nurse.
So, I became a nurse. Not an author.
Frankly, it never occurred to me that being an author was a job. That people actually did. Which is ludicrous because there were books – so many books! – and I loved books, slurping them up at every opportunity. But I’d never really given any thought to the writer behind the pages – just the story itself.
Until in 1991 for a period of six weeks, I found myself unemployed….
My husband and I were living in the UK on a working holiday. We’d moved to Milton Keynes where he’d taken a year contract with Abbey National bank and, after working in 2 nursing homes prior to the move, I declared I wasn’t working in another one and that I was holding out for a hospital job.
But, in the meantime, what was I to do? It was out first UK winter and it was freezing. The temperature hadn’t got above 0 for a week. I mean, the cobwebs on our house had frozen! Which is breathtakingly pretty but still….really freaking cold. Consequently, I needed something to do that didn’t involve me getting off my electric blanket while I waited to hear word about the various feelers I’d put out for a job in the NHS.
I know, I thought, I’ll write that book that’s in my head.
Okay, wait. Brake screech….
The what in the where? Yes….I was as surprised as you probably are given the previous paragraphs, to realise that the pictures and thoughts in my head were actually characters and dialogue and a plot. Up until that point it hadn’t occurred to me that it was a book. I just thought I had a…really vivid imagination.
But, in that moment of clarity, in that split second I decided what I was going to do with my time, I had no doubt at all, that it was a book.
Of course, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. As previously stated, I loved reading, I excelled at creative writing in English and, perhaps the biggest red flag of all, was the fact that throughout my childhood, my mother had always been tinkering away on a second hand typewriter writing her own book – a romance novel. I hadn’t realised it at the time, but she was laying the subliminal ground work for me. Watching her toil at her own creative endeavours had sown the seeds of conviction in my self-conscious – no matter how deeply – that anyone could write a book. Even me. You just had to sit your ass in the chair (or on the electric blanket) and do it.
Suddenly, it all made sense and the rest, as they say, is history.
I wrote that book long hand in ten days – a chapter a day. Yep, that’s right, ten chapters of 5000 words each just flew from my fingertips. It was like I cracked open a portal in my head that day – the creative portal – that I’ve never been able to shut. The door opened and I stepped over the threshold and shazam!
That book didn’t succeed. The rejection after nine months was cutting in its brevity but thankfully it wasn’t a fatal blow. In fact, I always say that it wasn’t writing my first book that made me a writer but my first rejection that transformed me. Rejection made me determined – bloody minded my husband calls it – to succeed. To prove to the publisher and the world and me that I would succeed, that I would write a book that a publisher wanted to publish.
Rejection made me a writer.
Eighty books down, I know so much more than I did then and yet, perversely it feels I still know so little. But none of that matters – because I’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other and figure it out as I go along. With thanks to you guys, the readers, for your fierce love of books and reading.
And to my mother, for paving the way.