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.
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!
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.
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.
Shirley’s three children
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.
Shirley’s middle child on her 21st birthday
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.