I’m delighted to welcome Myself onto my blog today, as part of my ‘What I did at 50’ series. This is the final post in the first blitz, but there are plenty more posts to come after the 24th of June, so stay tuned!
I was a late-starter. From the age of ten I wanted to be a writer, but I think my ‘voice’ started to emerge in my late teens. I was drawn to otherness, and in retrospect I suspect my own, lifetime-experienced otherness has its roots in Autism. It’s probably too late (and too expensive) to have that confirmed now. Aged fifteen, I remember being asked by some school visitors (inspectors or governors, maybe) why it was that I sat on my own in my form room (facing a window, with my back to the rest of the class).
I wrote characters who didn’t fit in, who struggled out of oppression in some form. George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four affected me deeply at O’ Level.
Me at 16
I left home the summer before I was eighteen, lodging briefly on my older sister’s floor. We both worked in a nightclub, although I still had a further year of my A’ Levels. I stayed no more than a few months in any flat or bedsit, soon moving on to another. But I remember each location, and can picture myself in the different surroundings during the nights I sat up reading and writing: poems and attempted-novels. As in the way I never stayed in any accommodation long, I quickly moved on to the next novel that I wanted to write. However, there was one character I wrote who endured through my every attempt at a novel. She was anorexic Marianne Fairchild, who eventually took full form in my first published book. Her name was inspired by that of the character Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, which I remember sitting reading in my wooden armchair throughout one night at a flat I lived in when I was eighteen.
Aged twenty, I dropped out of my Sociology and Social Anthropology degree at Hull University. I told my personal tutor it was because I wanted to write a book. But that book never progressed any further than the ones before it. My boyfriend dropped out of university too, to try and pursue his music career. But we were both lethargic. Before long, and in a doomed relationship, I had become pregnant. I knew she would be a girl.
By the summer of 1984 we had moved into a communal house in Kilnsea, on the banks of the Humber Estuary. The location of mudflats and seascape imprinted itself in me deeply, and it’s the setting for three of my novels: The Last Time We Saw Marion, Of His Bones and The Eliza Doll.
My three novels set in Kilnsea, East Yorkshire
I lost my baby at six months, another experience that has permeated my writing. During the time I lived at Kilnsea, I completed my first novel, handwritten over two thick notebooks. I think it was something that just needed to be written and I never took it any further. After we moved back into Hull, I began studying for a degree in Visual studies. My relationship broke down and, living alone again, I stayed up late into the nights writing, after I had finished my artwork for the day. Aged twenty-six, I completed the first draft of what eventually became my first novel, The Last Time We Saw Marion, as well as a short story that eventually became my second published novel, Another Rebecca. But the two stories were to lay dormant for more than twenty years.
I graduated from my art degree while pregnant with my first son. I got married the same summer, and went on to have two more sons and a daughter. I worked as an artist, exhibiting and teaching workshops, but I continued to think of myself as a writer. When my daughter was one and I was thirty-seven, my marriage broke down. I moved back to Lincolnshire with my children.
I continued teaching art workshops, and went on to do a fine art MA. But I still thought of myself as a writer. Every now and then, over the years, I brought out the draft of the full-length novel I had written, and did some re-writing. But my time was filled with single-parenthood, making art for exhibitions, and the temporary teaching job I was offered at a secondary school in the wake of my MA, (initially supposed to be six weeks!) The job lasted two and a half years, by which time I had met up with a former school-friend who had also become a single parent. Phil and I married when we were both almost forty-seven and we lived in a tall house overlooking the South Common in Lincoln, where we tackled becoming a step-family.
When my school teaching job finally came to an end, I was able to write full-time. I used the lesson-planning discipline I had learned as a teacher to fully apply myself to writing this time around.
I was offered a publishing contract for The Last Time We Saw Marion when I was fifty years old. The book was published by Inspired Quill the following year, when I was fifty-one.
In the almost-decade since I married Phil, I’ve developed a close relationship with mortality. I’ve lost two sisters, my father, and several friends. It makes me achingly aware of how brief a touchdown we have on this earth. Phil and I are making the most of our life together. He took early retirement from his long-term job when we were fifty-five, and we started our own publishing company, Wild Pressed Books. We regained the rights to my second novel Another Rebecca.
Another Rebecca (second edition)
We have also published my books The Eliza Doll and Sea Babies, as well as several novels and poetry collections by other writers. We’ve just signed up our ninth author!
Wild Pressed Books at the Northern Publishers’ Fair
The other massive lifestyle change we’ve undertaken is to do as much travelling as we can in our camper van. It started when we were a family of eight. We decided to buy a second-hand minibus – a huge, old LDV Pageant — and it immediately suggested itself to me as a home on wheels! It was at the age of fifty that Phil and I began venturing further afield than the outreaches of Yorkshire. We’ve explored most of Scotland, returning to the Outer Hebrides several times, and it’s where my fifth novel, Sea Babies is set.
Ardroil, Uig, Isle of Lewis – setting for Sea Babies
We’ve also been to Ireland and to Germany, via Holland and Belgium (for my son’s wedding). Later this year we’ll be driving to Portugal.
Driving in Germany
At the age of fifty-six, Phil and I, together with my son and daughter-in-law, have bought our very own property in Portugal – a rustic two-roomed house with two-and-a-half acres of land on which grow olive trees, sweet chestnut trees and cork-oak. We’re currently in the process of buying a second building and extra land to accommodate the four of us.
Our future home in Portugal
The future feels vivid, and you can expect novels set in Portugal from me from now on!
My latest novel is Sea Babies…
Lauren Wilson is travelling by ferry to the Outer Hebrides, about to begin a new job as a social worker with the Islands’ youth. She’s also struggling to come to terms with a catastrophic event. When somebody sits opposite her at the cafeteria table, she refuses to look up, annoyed at having her privacy disturbed. But a hand is pushing a mug of tea towards her, and a livid scar on the back of the hand releases a flood of memories…
Some people believe in the existence of a parallel universe. Does Lauren have a retrospective choice about the outcome of her terrible recent accident, or is it the bearer of that much older scar who has the power to decide what happens to her life now?
Set mainly in the Outer Hebrides and Edinburgh from the 1980s to the present, Sea Babies is a potent, emotional psychological drama that explores the harder aspects of relationships, as well as the idea of choice, responsibility and the refugee in all of us.