SHIRLEY GOODRUM: What I Did at 50

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Shirley Goodrum, aged four, on a Royal Navy ship to England

I’m delighted to welcome Shirley Goodrum onto my blog today, the latest guest in my ‘What I did at 50’ series. Each of these stories takes my breath away, and shows me how interesting it is to read the timeline of a life up to and beyond the age of 50! Shirley’s is no exception. Welcome, Shirley.

Hi Tracey, thanks for having me on your blog.

I’m new to publishing but started telling stories as a toddler. I was born with a caul over my head and my mother’s South African family declared me lucky and fey. My ‘big’ words intrigued them and they weren’t a bit surprised when I pointed to a picture of my long-dead grandmother and said I’d heard them from her.    

I was four when the Royal Navy sent us to England. As the sailor’s daughters, my baby sister and I were the darlings of the ship and the crew looked out for us. My parents revelled in kid-free time, until I went missing from the nursery. Panic. Child overboard. The ship was turned around and the crew and I severely reprimanded, when I was found, holding court with my stories, in their quarters.

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My English grandmother’s good-night tales were magic, and I forgave her for loving my sister more than me because I had Grandad. He adored me, said my imagination came from her, and taught me how to write. I became the family scribe.

I wrote of our adventures; sailing back to South Africa, adding a baby brother to our clan, boarding steam trains bound for Southern and Northern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe and Zambia). ‘New kid on the block’ was a common theme, and I left primary school clutching the prize for best essays.

On to high school in Kitwe where the December Teenage Dance was the event. I’d been to a few before my dad’s boss said his son was coming up from Johannesburg for the holidays. The son had lost touch with the local crowd, and I was asked if I would go as his partner. No! Never!

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Introduction to the Boss’s son!

History shows I did; we were ‘cased’ by Christmas. I told him I was fey and going to die at forty-three. This declaration didn’t put him off and we married four years later.

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My twenties and thirties were hyper. We settled in Johannesburg, had two girls and a boy within three years, built our own businesses and moved nine times. I loved renovating and subjected the family to living in and through them. Except for the odd newspaper or magazine article, my writing didn’t happen, but I did tell stories. Our middle child had a rare illness and was often hospitalised; I filled the visiting hours with anecdotes of the world outside her ward.

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Shirley’s three children

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It was she, not I, who died when I was forty-three. I heard the pews were full to overflowing and the church a blaze of white flowers. I only remembered the priest’s eulogy. On bad days, I wore her school blazer, and listened to him telling of our girl playing the guitar, loving Patrick Swazye and Dirty Dancing, building thousand-piece puzzles, blowing out twenty-one candles on her last birthday cake and buying gifts for the whole family on her solo overseas trip. She left big memories and they slotted her back into my changed-forever life. Grandmother-hood and dancing at our son’s wedding, brought me joy, but the deaths of my sister and brother snatched it away. I lost myself and limped out of my forties.

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Shirley’s middle child on her 21st birthday

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I was depressed. After a day in the garden I was dirty and tired and about to make supper, when the doorbell rang. I sighed and opened the door to a gathering of people from all over my life and their huge smiles and solid love lifted my spirits. What a surprise fiftieth birthday party! My parents had travelled up from Cape Town and found themselves a bed long before the celebration ended. Cleaning up, I realised how frail my dad was, the weight on my mom’s shoulders, and knew first-hand how they missed my siblings. I had to shape up. I had the role of an only child to fill.

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Selling our house and renovating the next one energised me, and my parents came to live with us. They died in April and June 2000 and, in their deed box, amongst their history, I found a packet labelled “Shirley’s Writing.” My mom had kept all my essays, stories, poems, and articles. The very next day, I smiled when I saw an advert for a writing course. It was my mom’s unsubtle nudge from the grave. I signed up and promised her I’d write a book.

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Shirley with her eldest daughter in London

Two poems and a short story, All That Glitters, published in Jozi, a Reflection of Johannesburg, were published when our eldest took her art and sculptures to England. I tagged along and delivered samples of my one-third finished book to publishing houses in London and arrived home to an email from Orion Books asking for the balance of the typescript. My reply was immediate.

The book isn’t finished, can I please send what I have?

Unfortunately, they didn’t deal with incomplete books, suggested I find an agent and recommended Ali Gunn at Curtis Brown. Her assistant replied; they liked what they read but needed a timeline of completion. My heart sank. Impossible. We were facing a company liquidation, selling our home to start a new venture and working all hours.

Two more grandchildren, and four houses later I finally wrote THE END.

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I’d stepped into my sixties, Ali Gunn had died, and Curtis Brown were no longer interested in my book. An agent at David Higham asked for more and I was crestfallen when they declined, but those ‘please send the manuscript’ requests egged me on, and I continued submitting to agents.

My rejection pile and my wrinkles multiplied. Indie Author friends convinced me to follow their route. Their books sold and soared and, with their encouragement, and my daughter navigating Amazon’s instructions, Baggage in a B Cup was published in January this year.

I’ve kept my promise to my mom, the deed box is a treasure trove of stories and I’m busy with one. What fun!

Baggage in a B Cup BUY HERE

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Book cover: Baggage in a B Cup

Blurb: Do you wear a size 32B?” Pam Richards does. Her bust requires no support but, when her teenage daughter runs off with a convicted drug dealer, comes home pregnant, and her husband, Alex, is locked in clinical depression, she needs propping up. Buying a black lace bra, she wins a trip for two to Rio, but Alex can hardly get out of bed and onto the shrink’s couch, let alone board an aeroplane. His apathy kills her excitement and she lets her prize morph into a future business itinerary. Her soulmate husband of twenty-years is a distant stranger. Loneliness topples her into a romance and she’s on the brink of an affair. Can Alex recover and will she wait for him to, or will she slip under the illicit sheets? She finds the answer at the top of a mountain and it takes her breath away. 

BUY Baggage in a B Cup HERE

Shirley’s Facebook Author Page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JESSICA NORRIE: What I Did at 50

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Jessica Norrie

I’m happy to welcome Jessica Norrie onto my blog today, as part of my ‘What I did at 50’ series – or, as Jessica puts it: What I did at 50 plus a bit, minus a bit. Jessica is the author of The Infinity Pool and The Magic Carpet. Welcome, Jessica, and tell us your story…

Thank you. First, I was born, at University College Hospital, London. I don’t claim any special credit for that, but it wasn’t long before Christmas. My father talked about watching processions of nurses in their red capes marching briskly through the snow below the ward window – I think the NHS was more glamorous then.

At school I loved writing stories, but that’s hardly surprising because both my parents were journalists, my mother on Glamour and Mirabelle magazines before she was married (glamour again) and my father for local papers until he got fed up with being sent to report weddings and found work as a bookseller, publishing novels in his spare time. So I thought writing was as normal as eating which gave me a lucky boost most children never get.

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I studied French, lived in France teaching English, came back and trained to do it properly and somehow writing took a back seat. But when I married and had children, I earned a few pounds writing columns for mother and baby magazines (think inept mother makes silly mistakes, not helpful tips or advice. Fortunately my children were quite easy going and survived.) On maternity leave from teaching, I studied translation, and earned enough for our family holidays for a few years. Translating is great – a bit like editing/writing rolled into one without having to think up the plot yourself. Again, I’d never have got the diploma if the children hadn’t been predictable babies who kindly slept while I did the assignments.

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There’s a lot of fast forwarding to do now. Career highpoints of the next few decades? I enjoyed visiting different schools to assess (with interpreters) bilingual children who were struggling for one reason or another – saw lots of age groups, situations, individuals – all human life was there! Refugee children, children with disabilities that had never been diagnosed, perfectly ok children who were just taking the developmental time they needed to start using another language but it didn’t fit with the exam schedules. Then the funding for that was withdrawn.

Later, it was hard work but fascinating entering the school advisory service to set up language teaching in primary schools. I made some great new friends and rediscovered my own love of learning languages. Then that funding was withdrawn. Back into school teaching I went, armed with lots of new methods and expertise and proud co-author of a textbook.

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My own children were now adults and I found I wasn’t so well in tune with what makes young children tick. The primary curriculum too had become as dull for the teachers as the government seemed to be trying to make it for the pupils. My heart wasn’t in it any more. I had become more interested in what made adults tick, especially slightly odd ones, which inspired my first novel, The Infinity Pool. It did surprisingly well for self-published literary fiction. I had a number one in Australia, overtaking The Girl on a Train in the charts for over a week. I was amazed how long it took to market it and spread the word, though. No time for teaching, so I took early retirement, and following an amazing holiday of a lifetime in Japan, got down to novel number two, The Magic Carpet, which has just been published. This is not for children, but it is about them, and without my teaching career would never have been written. As a teacher, I think I learned at least as much as I ever taught.

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All the while, I’ve been singing, in choirs, bring-and-sing days, workshops, holidays and with anyone who’ll accept my thin high soprano and slightly slow learning. There’s always someone with a richer, better voice, which stops me getting prima donna airs. I cannot recommend singing highly enough, whatever standard you are (or think you are), Rock Choir to Oratorio. It’s about breathing, muscle work, discipline, mindfulness, teamwork, concentration, self-expression and release. Though sheer good luck, I’ve sung at the Festival Hall, on Radio 3 and at the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Paralympics. Singing has made me lifelong friends and it’s how I met my partner. When we’re feeling flush, we also love to watch others at the opera – do go, it’s neither as expensive nor as elitist as you may think.

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Jessica at La Scala Opera House

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I’ve finished the first draft of novel number three, which is – why not? – about adults and children. Surprising how few novels are, when you stop and think about it. So many stories for adults ignore anyone under eighteen completely, as if we all sprang into the world at voting age.

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The view from Jessica’s study in Malvern, Worcestershire

So that’s my 50s – three novels started, two finished. Two children sent out into the world. I’ve just stepped over the hump into 60 (no snow this birthday) which has started well – my partner has moved to Malvern, Worcs where this is the view from my study! And started badly – I won’t be seeing the view much longer without a trabeculectomy at Moorfields eye hospital this August. So it looks like I’m back where I started, with the NHS in considerably straitened circumstances but still doing its best. From the cradle – well let’s hope not to the grave, just yet. There’s still that third novel to finish!

Thank you for having me on your blog, Tracey, it’s been interesting to find the shape in my life through doing this piece of writing. Hope it’s of some interest to your readers too.

Tracey: I’ve enjoyed reading your story, Jessica. Thank you for telling it to us. Find out more about Jessica from the links below, and take a look at her books…

The Magic Carpet

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The Magic Carpet

BUY HERE

Blurb:
Outer London, September 2016, and neighbouring eight-year-olds have homework: prepare a traditional story to perform with their families at a school festival. But Nathan’s father thinks his son would be better off doing sums; Sky’s mother’s enthusiasm is as fleeting as her bank balance, and there’s a threatening shadow hanging over poor Alka’s family. Only Mandeep’s fragile grandmother and new girl Xoriyo really understand the magical powers of storytelling. As national events and individual challenges jostle for the adults’ attention, can these two bring everyone together to ensure the show will go on?

BUY The Magic Carpet

Other links:

 

Jessica’s blog

Jessica’s Facebook page

Jessica on Twitter

 

IP paperback

The Infinity Pool

BUY The Infinity Pool

Blurb: In this thoughtful novel set on a sun-baked island, Adrian Hartman, the charismatic director of the Serendipity holiday community, is responsible for ensuring the perfect mindful break, with personal growth and inner peace guaranteed. People return year after year to bare their souls. For some, Adrian IS Serendipity. 

But Adrian disappears, and with him goes the serenity of his staff and guests, who are bewildered without their leader. The hostility of the local villagers is beginning to boil over. Is their anger justified or are the visitors, each in a different way, just paranoid?

As romance turns sour and conflict threatens the stability of both communities, everyone has to find their own way to survive. This evocative story explores the decisions of adults who still need to come of age, the effect of well-intentioned tourism on a traditional community, and the real meaning of getting away from it all.