Music in my Life: An interview I did on @Audrinasplace

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Me at Ardroil Beach, Isle of Lewis

Some time last year, I did an interview with Audrina Lane from Audrina’s Place. The interview was about music that has been important to me in my life. I had an emotional time choosing the songs, and it was difficult to limit myself, but here are the questions and answers, and the links to some of my favourite songs of all time.

I can’t believe I haven’t got Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight in there (Oops, I now have!)

But back to the interview: here’s Audrina’s first question:

~”Do you remember the first record/tape/cd that you bought? Why this one? Does it bring back memories I’d love to know?”~

The first record I bought was a Top of the Pops one from Woolworths. The songs were sung by tribute artists and so the records were cheap. I can remember the songs Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina and Yes Sir, I can Boogie on that record. I sat alone in the playroom and sang, and dreamed, to the music. It reminds me of my own young boys singing along to their ‘NOW’ CDs in the early 2000s.

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Me aged about 16 (with siblings!)

Here’s Baccara with Yes Sir, I can Boogie! LISTEN to Baccara: Yes Sir, I can Boogie

 

~”Is there a song that could be the theme tune of your life or your personality? Is there a song that is the theme tune for any of your characters lives?”~

U2’s Drowning Man is the theme tune to my first novel, The Last Time We Saw Marion. I was originally going to call the book The Drowning Man when I wrote the first draft in 1989. (Yes, it was more than 20 years before I began working on it again!) In This Heart, sung by Sinead O’Connor, is the theme tune of my latest book, Sea Babies.  

LISTEN to Sinead O’Connor: In This Heart

fayeface2 heart

Own artwork

As for my own life, oh I don’t know… there are so many brilliant, powerful and moving songs! But if I’m pushed I’ll go with Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, as it once made me cry in a nightclub and my older sister asked me what I was crying for. Years later I sang it to her in hospital the day before she died. It feels so potent and spiritual and powerful, and it still makes me cry.

 

LISTEN to Led Zeppelin: Stairway to Heaven

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Own artwork

~”In your books do your main characters have favourite songs or musicians?”~

In my new novel Sea Babies, the young Lauren is in love with Ted Neeley – who played Jesus in Jesus Christ, Superstar. She loves all the songs in the show. But her favourite is probably I Don’t know How to Love Him

LISTEN to Yvonne Elliman: I Don’t Know How to Love Him

~”If you’re romantically involved, or have been in the past. Do you have an “Our Song” one that takes you back to a certain moment? Do any of your characters have a song?”~

One particular song I can think of is Afterglow by Genesis. 

LISTEN to Genesis: Afterglow

This song reminds me of my first true love, with whom I lived for five and a half years. His ex. had written out and illustrated the lyrics for him. I was jealous of this piece of artwork. Listening to Genesis always takes me back. My first husband and his twin brother were Neil Young fans. I cry every time I hear Neil Young’s My Boy, which we played at our sons’ naming ceremony.

LISTEN to Neil Young: My Boy

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Video-still image of my oldest son aged 6 months

(My boys are aged 28, 26 and 24 now and my daughter is 20!) 

 

~”When did you decide to write your first novel? Tell me a bit about the inspiration, process and of course the book.”~

I’ve been trying to write novels since I was ten, but the first draft of the first novel I got published was written when I was an Art student in 1989. It was partially inspired by U2’s song Drowning Man from the album War. I was mad about U2 at the time and I was once the only member of the audience in the cinema at an afternoon showing of the U2 film Rattle and Hum. I lived in a flat on my own after the breakup of my long term relationship and I played records and listened to the radio, and had no television, and wrote many short stories, poems and that first draft of the novel. Here is Drowning Man – best listened to at top volume! :

LISTEN to U2: Drowning Man


~”Do you write to music or prefer silence. Do you think that music can inspire a scene or feeling within your writing and your characters story?”~

I would love to write to music but I find I become so engrossed in the music that I forget to write so I tend to have to write in silence. But music most certainly inspires scenes, emotions and indeed whole books of my writing. Whenever I hear Suzanne Vega’s Marlene on the Wall –  

LISTEN to Suzanne Vega: Marlene on the Wall – 

I now think of Cal and Sarah and Marianne from The Last Time We Saw Marion; sitting in Strawbs bar in Leeds, when they’ve just met, because I have that coming over the speakers in the book.

I’ve already mentioned The Drowning Man and In This Heart inspiring two of my novels. I think The Eliza Doll is strongly Genesis-themed. Rebecca in Another Rebecca sings a folk song called She Moved through the Fair. Here again sung by Sinead O’Connor: 

LISTEN to Sinead O’Connor: She Moved through the Fair

~”What song would you like played at your funeral and why?”~

 

I think it’s exceedingly important to know what you want played at your funeral! Undertow by Genesis will be my choice. My sister bought me the album And Then there were Three for my 18th or 19th birthday so it reminds me of her. I also wrote an essay about this song for my English A’level! (I got a B.) 

LISTEN to Genesis: Undertow

Stand up to the blow that fate has struck upon you
Make the most of all you still have coming to you.
Lay down on the ground and let the tears run from you
Crying to the grass and trees and heaven finally on your knees
Let me live again, let life come find me wanting.
Spring must strike again against the shield of winter.
Let me feel once more the arms of love surround me
Telling me the danger’s past. I need not fear the icy blast again.”

 

Finally: anyone got a hanky? These three are also emotional for me, in happy and sad ways. 

~”What are your Top 3 Songs of all Time? The ones you can’t live without?”~

This is SO hard because music has seen me through the best and the worst times of my life and it feels almost impossible to pick only three. So I’m going to pick one for aspiration and hope, one for a sad time and one for a joyful time.

Hope is Nanci Griffiths singing From a Distance:

LISTEN to Nanci Griffith: From a Distance

From a distance

Own artwork 

The sad time is after I’d lost my baby in 1984, the song is from the band Audience, singing You’re Not Smiling:

LISTEN to Audience: You’re Not Smiling

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Own artwork


For Joyful, I’m going to go with Des’ree, You Gotta Be (Love will save the Day). This song reminds me of my oldest son’s Year 6 leaving ceremony. It was a class of only 17 children and he felt nervous about standing on the stage, singing this song with the rest of his classmates. But I told him to keep his head up, keep looking at me and to keep a smile on his face and he did. Obviously listening to it makes me cry, but in a good way!

LISTEN to Des’ree: You Gotta Be (Love Will Save the Day

image of my son

Own artwork

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed taking a trip down musical Memory Lane with me, and also visual Memory Lane with these few examples of my artwork. Thanks once again to  Audrina’s Place for  inviting me!

CAROL COOPER: What I Did at 50

I’m happy to welcome Carol Cooper onto my blog today, as part of my ‘What I did at 50’ series. I first met Carol at the London Book Fair in 2013. Hi, Carol! Tell us about your life up to and at fifty and beyond…

Carol Cooper headshot

Carol Cooper

Thank you very much for having me on your blog, Tracey. I’m a slow learner, and turning fifty taught me a lot.

Back in my twenties, I dreamed of living in Hampstead and writing novels. However, I couldn’t afford Hampstead rents at the time and didn’t know how to write a book. In fact I knew nothing much except how to pass exams. I did however write a few music reviews, which got me into some of the best gigs in Cambridge.

Studying took up the next few years. Once I qualified as a doctor, I began writing light-hearted articles for other medics, and eventually for Punch and other titles. To me, Punch has always been an iconic magazine, and I was thrilled when it became one of my regular outlets.

~

You asked about turning fifty, though, so I’ll fast-forward. By my forties, I had three teenaged sons and was a GP in a partnership in Chorleywood, Herts. I’d often been a part-time doctor, but had always worked, with only five weeks off after giving birth to my first child, and six months after having twins. This was considered exceptionally generous at the time.

Alongside this, I was also busy as a ‘media medic’, as some call it.  As the doctor for The Sun newspaper, my role was to supply a medical opinion at short notice on topics that could range from hangover remedies to radiation spills. I also popped up a lot on radio and TV, especially on Sky News who gave me a regular slot. It was a fun time. I never knew what might come up next so it was like working in A&E, though without getting my hands dirty.

~

Inspired by my children and my work, I wrote a string of non-fiction books, among them the very popular Twins and Multiple Births and the Baby & Child Q & A Book. The only sadness was that my marriage had broken down by then, though my ex and I remain friendly.

Twins and Multiple Births

Carol’s book Twins & Multiple Births: the essential parenting guide from pregnancy to adulthood.

 

Around my fiftieth birthday, I was teaching nurses in the practice, as well as medical students who sometimes did attachments with us. But the biggest change came when I left the partnership. The decision was triggered by the birthday of my eldest son, who insisted on waiting for me to come home from work before opening his cards and presents.

I had an evening clinic and the last patient took a while. I recall her telling me, “This won’t take a minute, doctor.” She was right. It took more like half an hour.

Just as I’d thought I’d finished, I got a call from a local care home. The elderly patient in question had already been visited several times in the last few days. The staff didn’t think she needed further medical attention but the family were insistent, so I went, taking the usual time and care even though it became clear that there was nothing more any doctor could do for her.

When I was finally driving home, it struck me somewhat late in the day (in every sense of the phrase) that I couldn’t have it all, despite everything I’d told myself. Anyone could be a GP, I concluded, but only one person could be a mother to my sons.

~

After I left the practice, I still wanted to see patients, but got pickier about the hours, so I worked on a very part-time basis. This allowed me to spend more time with my sons, teach medical students at Imperial College, and carry on with my media work and non-fiction books.

With over half my allotted time up on the big parking meter of life, I returned to ideas that had been simmering for a while. I’d already attended a weekend course led by the legendary Ruth Rendell who convinced me that I could write fiction, especially if it involved dialogue or sex. Spurred on by her advice, I finally finished a novel. I also moved to Hampstead when I downsized from the family home in Chorleywood. But it still wasn’t plain sailing. When my agent decided that One Night at the Jacaranda wasn’t her thing, I self-published my debut novel, followed two years later by Hampstead Fever.

Hampstead Fever COVER

 Hampstead Fever

BUY Hampstead Fever HERE

Set in Hampstead, the book follows the intertwined lives of six Londoners whose various emotions boil over in the hot summer of 2013. This is the year I got married to Jeremy with whom, coincidentally, I’d worked at Punch all those years ago.

Readers often wonder why my novels have short scenes and feature multiple viewpoints. The answer is that it mirrors my profession. Every ten minutes, someone new comes into a GP’s consulting room, and I try to put myself in their shoes.

~

Although my career hasn’t taken a straight path, nothing has been wasted. There’s a lot of life experience in my novels, and, while all the characters are purely imaginary, there’s more than a whiff of authenticity in the stressed GP, the struggling journalist, and the newly single mother. I was delighted when WH Smith picked Hampstead Fever for a front-of-store promo in their travel bookshops. 

 

Cathy from WH Smith at Gatwick Airport, with a copy of Hampstead Fever

Cathy from WH Smith at Gatwick Airport, holding a copy of Hampstead Fever

 

I’ve just finished a more literary novel. The Girls from Alexandria centres around Nadia, an Egyptian of Syrian origin who’s now seventy and has symptoms that might be dementia. To avoid being sent to a care home, she needs to find her only remaining relative, a sister who disappeared decades ago. As it’s set mostly in Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s, the book draws on my experience of growing up in Alexandria. I’m not sure when it’ll be published, but it has been pure joy revisiting old memories, just as Nadia does in the novel as she tries to piece clues together.

 

Hampstead Fever BUY HERE

Connect with Carol on Twitter

Read Carol’s blog Pills & Pillow-Talk

Carol’s  Website

Author page on Facebook Carol Cooper’s London Novels

Find Carol on Instagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharon Booth: What I Did at 50

Tracey: I’m thrilled to welcome Sharon Booth onto my blog today, in a continuation of my ‘What I did at 50’ series. I’m enjoying these stories so much, and Sharon’s story is particularly moving and hopeful. Welcome, Sharon!

Me

Sharon Booth

 

Sharon: Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Tracey.

CHILDHOOD.

Well, I was the typical bookworm. I spent every spare moment I had reading. My favourite Christmas presents were always the Enid Blyton books that my parents bought for me without fail (usually a bundle of three – exciting times!) and I practically lived in the local library. My pocket money went on books, too. If I wasn’t buying novels, I was buying notebooks, because it had already occurred to me that it might be a good idea to start writing my own stories. I can’t tell you how many “Chapter Ones” I wrote, but I do know that I wasted a lot of paper!

I did reasonably well at school – but only excelled in English. I could have done much, much better in other subjects, but I was too busy daydreaming and only English held my attention. I was in a world of my own most of the time, but I came alive when I had to write a story or read a book.

I remember for one essay I had to state what I’d like to be when I left school. Among the rather strange choices of showjumper (I’d never even had a riding lesson!) and vicar’s wife (I mean, why?) I put author. Honestly, though, I had no expectations of any of those things happening. I may have got top marks for my English assignments, but becoming an author seemed to me about as realistic as my chances of becoming an Olympic showjumper. Nil. Authors were otherworldly creatures like Enid Blyton, who floated around big, country houses like Green Hedges. It was a different world.

me aged from around 10 to 18

Sharon aged between 10 and 18

 

MY TWENTIES AND THIRTIES

My passion for writing deserted me when I got married. We had five children and I suffered from post-natal depression. For several years I was self-harming. When I finally confessed to a GP, he told me angrily that I didn’t deserve children then gave me a tetanus injection with alarming ferocity. Funnily enough, that attitude didn’t help.  

On antidepressants, I suffered from social anxiety and rarely left the house. At one point I couldn’t even go into my own garden. My mental health was spiralling downwards, and I was a mass of insecurities and anxieties. My dad died, which just about broke me. He was only fifty-five. Meanwhile, my husband was acting as if he didn’t have a wife or children at all. I suppose he was living the life a man of that age should have been living, but it felt like I was shouldering all the responsibilities and growing old before my time. 

We got divorced, but our estrangement was no more successful than our marriage and we married for a second time. Nothing had changed, and we grew further and further apart. Another divorce followed and I sought refuge – as I had when a shy and “overly-sensitive” child – in books. Tentatively, I took a short course for women who had, like me, been at home with children for many years. It was designed to give us confidence to look for work. We were taught how to use a computer and given careers advice. I confessed that I’d quite like to be a primary school teacher. I was told I was being unrealistic and maybe should look for something less ambitious. My tutor was furious when she heard and, when I left the course, she sent me a message saying, “I think you will go far. Aim high!”   

MY FORTIES

Reunited with my husband and remarried – yes, for the THIRD time! – I knew I had to do something to change my life and break this self-destructive pattern. I wanted to “aim high” but how? I needed something that made me believe I had something to offer, that I wasn’t a complete waste of space.

wedding

Third wedding – to the same man!

 

I enrolled for a degree in literature with the Open University and it honestly changed my life. I loved learning and being introduced to so many works that I probably wouldn’t have read in other circumstances – Shakespeare and Flaubert and George Eliot, for example.

One of the modules I did for my degree was in creative writing. My tutor suggested I submit one of my short stories to a magazine, so I sent it off to The People’s Friend. It was returned with a polite rejection slip. I was crushed and, convinced I had no writing ability, I threw the story away and decided to concentrate on finishing my degree instead. After six years of hard work, I graduated with Upper Second-class Honours. I was forty-six.

While doing my degree, I’d also enrolled at a local college and studied for an AMSPAR diploma in medical reception – something I’d never have been able to do if my OU work hadn’t boosted my confidence – and got a job as a receptionist at a local GP practice. That job altered me beyond all recognition. Meeting new people, learning new skills, being part of a team, making friends, it was a whole new world and I loved it. My colleagues and I shared confidences, moaned together, and laughed together. For the first time in years I felt “normal” again.

Three years after starting the job, and two years after finishing my degree, I was on my way to Somerset for a holiday, when three characters popped into my head out of nowhere. I hadn’t done any creative writing since the OU module, so it was a bit of a surprise. Arriving in Somerset, I grabbed a notebook and pen and began to scribble down details about the characters. They would eventually become Joe, Lexi and Will in my Kearton Bay series.

I knew little about writing a novel, so I bought loads of “How-To” books and started to study them. Determined that this story wouldn’t go the way of the endless “Chapter Ones” of my childhood, I enrolled for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to ensure that I persevered. Throughout October 2011 I plotted the outline of the story and on November 1st I began writing. By December 1st I’d written 120,000 words and the first draft was finished.

Over the next two-and-a-half years I rewrote the book, endlessly redrafting as I learned more about writing. I did a fiction writing course with Writing Magazine and joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. I submitted what was then called Angel in the Marble for a critique and, thankfully, got hugely positive and constructive feedback.

MY FIFTIES

The Write Romantics

The Write Romantics

Through the NWS I met Alys West and Jessica Redland, and was introduced to their blogging group, The Write Romantics. I was invited to contribute a short story to a charity anthology they were putting together, called Winter Tales. By November 2014 I was a published author at last – my short story was in print! I was then invited to join The Write Romantics and I’m so glad because, quite honestly, they’ve been my lifeline. After feeling so isolated and alone for so many years, to have nine new friends to share this writing adventure with was just incredible. I love those women!

The following March, at the age of fifty-one, I indie published what was had become There Must Be an Angel.

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Sharon’s first novel, There Must Be an Angel

 

Since then, I’ve published a further thirteen novels. I’ve written two pocket novels for The People’s Friend and – drumroll please – had a short story appear in their magazine! What a sweet moment that was after my early rejection. I’ve had four large-print novels published by Ulverscroft, and a fifth one is due for publication in December. I’ve also had two audio books produced by WF Howes.  

people's friend

At last, a story published in The People’s Friend!

 

Last year, I was able to leave my day job at the medical centre and become a full-time writer – a whole new chapter in my life.

I write contemporary romance, with plenty of humour sprinkled in. It was only finding the funny side of life that kept me going sometimes, and I’ve had enough darkness to last a lifetime. I like to write humorous, positive stories. Yes, my characters deal with all sorts of issues and problems, but I always pepper their lives with laughter, and reward them with a happy ending. I find writing quite therapeutic, as I resolve problems for my heroines that I perhaps couldn’t resolve in my own life. It’s rather satisfying!

Now my children are all grown-up, some with children of their own, and my third marriage is about to enter its sixteenth year. After all the rough seas, it seems we’re now sailing on calmer waters. This month, I celebrated my fifty-sixth birthday and I can’t help thinking I have so much still to learn, so much to explore, and so much still to enjoy. Bring it on!

My latest book is My Favourite Witch. BUY My Favourite Witch HERE

MY FAVOURITE WITCH_FRONT_RGB150dpi

Sharon’s latest book, My Favourite Witch

BUY HERE

MY FAVOURITE WITCH

The world is full of magic, if you know where to look.

Blurb: It hasn’t been an easy time for Star St Clair. Her father has heaped disgrace on the family, and the man she loves rejected her when he discovered the truth about her powers. But the St Clair family’s magical heritage goes back centuries, and no one could be prouder of that than Star. Neither her father, nor Benedict Greenwood, will be forgiven.

Fate, however, has a shock in store for her. Not only is her errant father back in town, along with his new fiancée, but her ex has arrived home with a new girlfriend in tow. Maths teacher Elsie is everything Benedict seems to want – bright, steady, normal. How can Star possibly compete with her? Not that she intends to, of course. She is a St Clair, after all, and Benedict won’t get a second chance.

Benedict is an anxious man. Bad enough to discover your girlfriend is, in fact, a witch, but running out on her was probably a big mistake. Who knows what she’s plotting in revenge? Taking Elsie home to meet his grandmother is a test of nerve, and Star’s behaviour doesn’t exactly bring him peace of mind. Just what is she up to?

Star couldn’t be sweeter to Elsie, and even presents her with a bouquet of flowers to welcome her to Castle Clair, but Benedict isn’t fooled. Star is plotting something, and when Elsie suffers from a mysterious ailment, he is convinced that it’s all down to his ex-girlfriend. After all, everyone knows witches can’t be trusted.

But events are about to unfold that will challenge both Star and Benedict, and everything they believe to be true. In an attic room in North Yorkshire and a village hall in Ireland, unpalatable truths must be told, secrets must unfold, and life-changing decisions must be made.

Is forgiveness truly impossible? Are witches really that scary? And can a solution be reached before time, patience, and all the bourbon biscuits run out?

A story of pride, prejudice, and a whole lot of magic …

 

Buy My Favourite Witch HERE

Connect with Sharon on her website at: www.sharonboothwriter.com

Find her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/sharonbooth.writer

And on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Sharon_Booth1

 

TRACEY SCOTT-TOWNSEND: What I did at 50

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! 

birthday 54 Tracey

Tracey Scott-Townsend

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.

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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.

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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

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!

Northern Publishers2

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.

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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 house in Portugal

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…

SEA BABIES buy link

Sea Babies front Cover with quotes

Blurb:

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.

Sea Babies: BUY HERE

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This is the end of the first blitz of ‘What I Did at 50’ posts. Service will resume in late June, with a new series from writers, bloggers and others.

MAGGIE JAMES: What I did at 50

I’m delighted to welcome author Maggie James on my blog today, as part of my ‘What I did at 50’ series. If you have ever wished to undertake a travelling adventure, this read will interest you!

Maggie James

Maggie James

Tracey: Welcome, Maggie! Tell us your story.

Maggie: Thank you. Ever since I was a little girl, all I’ve ever wanted to do was to write novels. When the time came to seek my first job, however, I went into accountancy. As a young adult I lacked confidence and earning my living through writing fiction seemed impossible. In contrast, accountancy was a secure, well-paid profession. It didn’t appeal, but I’m comfortable with figures and so I entered the world of finance, where I stayed for nearly three decades.

My writing ambitions got buried under the realities of life: relationships, travel, a mortgage and the like. Time slipped by; I’d not written anything since my teenage years.

The dream never left me, though. I still intended to write a novel – someday. That day kept moving forward, always on the horizon but just out of reach. At one stage I even questioned whether it had just been a childish notion, one I should forget.

My answer always came back to one thing. On my deathbed, would I regret not having pursued my dream? The answer was always a resounding YES.

I dipped a toe in the water by penning a short story and was encouraged by the positive response it received online. I wrote some more, each one longer than the last, until my final effort was 27,000 words in length. I then decided to move on to novels. I was still stumped, though, about what to write.

~

Then I had a falling-out with my employers. For a few weeks, I stewed in my anger, until I had an epiphany, realising it could be one of the best things ever to happen to me. Wasn’t this the perfect time to put my novel-writing dreams into action? As well as indulge my lifelong passion for travel? With that in mind, I laid plans. First I’d save as much money as I could. Then I’d hand in my notice, go travelling for a year, and come back with a finished novel.

Maggie James

Happy Traveller: Maggie in Ecuador

And that’s what happened, albeit with a few hiccups along the way. Once abroad, my procrastination continued; three months into my trip, I’d not written a word. However, in Vietnam I engaged in a conversation that sowed the seed of the idea for His Kidnapper’s Shoes. We were discussing what happens to children who go missing, and I said I believed such events rarely had a happy ending. ‘Not so,’ said another traveller. ‘Sometimes kids are stolen to order for people who can’t have their own.’

That got me thinking. How would it feel to discover, as an adult, that you’d been kidnapped as a child? I was fascinated, and knew I’d found my storyline. If only I could quit procrastinating…

Matters came to a head in December 2010 in a small town called Arica in northern Chile.  My frustration was growing that despite all my plans, I still hadn’t written anything. One evening I was browsing the website of an author whose work I very much admired. I discovered she was a prolific writer, despite holding down a full-time job. I felt ashamed. Here was I, complaining about how impossible it was to write while getting on and off buses, planes, etc., and yet this woman was churning out excellent fiction while working. No excuses, just action. I resolved to change my ways. Time to throw procrastination out of the window, and get to grips with writing a novel.

~

I’d heard about a city in Bolivia called Sucre; other travellers were raving about this place. By all accounts it was beautiful and a great place to stay. I made a decision. I’d go there and remain as long as it took until I’d completed my first novel. I’d write every day, without exception, until the first draft was done. Sorted!

…50…

The next day I booked a bus ticket to La Paz, my resolve strong. Something inside me had changed, and this was crunch time. The fact a milestone birthday was approaching strengthened my decision. In four months’ time, I would turn fifty; I couldn’t bear the thought I’d reach that marker without having written a novel.

Sucre turned out every bit as lovely as I’d heard, surrounded by rolling hills and graced with beautiful colonial architecture, its streets filled with locals in colourful attire. I found a cheap hotel and booked myself some Spanish lessons to improve my grasp of the language; I was all set to go.

~

First I made some rough notes in an Excel spreadsheet about each chapter, along with a tab for each character. Then I opened Microsoft Word and set to work, determined to make good on my promise. I wrote every day and kept a tally of my word count; it was both exciting and motivating to see the numbers build up as chapter after chapter was completed. I began His Kidnapper’s Shoes at the end of December 2010 and finished it towards the end of February 2011.

Writing the last sentence proved hugely emotional; I burst into tears, and then went to a local cafe to celebrate.

His Kidnapper's Shoes_cover BLOG

His Kidnapper’s Shoes

BUY His Kidnapper’s Shoes HERE

At the time, Amazon’s Kindle programme was in its infancy, and wasn’t something I knew much about. When I looked into it, however, I liked what I read. Self-publishing appeared to have huge advantages over the traditional route to publication, with no downsides. I was ecstatic, and decided this was the path I’d take.

~

Upon my return to the UK, I self-published the novel, and got to work on writing others. I’ve now completed six novels, a novella and a non-fiction book aimed at would-be writers. I’ve signed publishing contracts for all my full-length fiction, including His Kidnapper’s Shoes, but recently reclaimed my rights to four titles, which now fall under my own imprint.

Nearly nine years have passed since I flew to Thailand to begin a new life, and I’m delighted at how things have turned out.

Fifty is the new thirty!

Tracey: Thanks to Maggie for sharing her story of travel, adventure and writing. Read more about her book, His Kidnapper’s Shoes, below.

His Kidnappers Shoes - Try 2 half size

His Kidnapper’s Shoes: BUY HERE

Blurb:

Daniel is my son. He has always been mine. And he always will be.
On some level deep inside, Laura Bateman knows something is wrong. That her relationship with her son is not what it should be. That it is based on lies.
But bad things have happened to Laura. Things that change a person. Forever.
For twenty-six-year-old Daniel, the discovery that his mother is not who he thought comes close to destroying him. As his world turns upside down, he searches for sanity in the madness that has become his life. Daniel is left with nothing but questions. Why did Laura do something so terrible? Can he move past the demons of his childhood?
And the biggest question of all: can he ever forgive Laura?

Find Maggie on:

Twitter: @mjamesfiction

Web: www.maggiejamesfiction.com

Facebook: Maggie James Fiction

Goodreads: Author Maggie James

Paul Marriner: Guest post on Why He Writes

Today I’m welcoming Paul Marriner to my website, talking about WHY he writes (as opposed to how, where or what genre he writes in… Thanks for joining us, Paul.

Paul on holday jpg

When I tell people I write the most common question is, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ not, ‘Why?’ Perhaps they assume it’s for the glory and the money – ha ha. So when I asked myself the question I went back to the beginning.

From an early age I read avidly. Our local library was stuffed with books where I found adventure, excitement, characters I could relate to and wanted to meet, trivia and facts (perhaps a boy thing?) and a place where my imagination could be in jeopardy while I was still in my bedroom. In short, entertainment and education – though many might say much of what I learned has been most useful in pub quizzes and crosswords. And the great news was that as I grew, I found books for each age, including, let’s be honest, a few ‘unsavoury’ tales that were best hidden from my parents (The Mack Bolan Mafia revenge series? Yes, really). Interestingly, I never thought of reading as a form of escapism. I had a busy, active childhood and teenage years and books were not a refuge in any sense, but great entertainment in a world with few tv channels and no internet.

The Godfather jpgCatch 22 jpg

By the middle of my teenage years I had perfected the art of immersing myself in books like ‘The Godfather’, ‘Catch22’, anything by Alastair Maclean or Arthur Hailey, and, dare I say it, ‘Chopper’ and ‘The Run’ (you may need to look up those last two). And I couldn’t understand how not everyone found it so easy to ‘jump’ into a book. I should say that at this stage, though I enjoyed writing stories for my English classes, I had little interest in the academic side of learning why the traditional greats of fiction (eg. Dickens, Austen, Hardy) were so lauded. In my later teenage years I began to think about how wonderful it must be to be able to write stories that pulled the reader in, engaged them and, in some way, educated – even if still in terms of ‘boyish’ facts, like where to get a sniper’s rifle made (‘Day Of The Jackal’). Then my grandmother gave me a copy of ‘Boys And Girls Together’ by William Goldman (I remember to this day her telling me it was a little ‘racy’ for her) and I began to think a little about how stories are structured and characters developed.

something happened jpgcuckoo's nest jpg

I read more of Joseph Heller and William Goldman’s work and started on John Irving. And not only was I being entertained and reading ingenious ways of using the English (American?) language, I was introduced to different-thinking characters that I’d never meet in real life. I was also being subtly asked to think about new ideas (at least, new to me) regarding politics, gender, race, love, hate, life and death. And more and more I was asking myself, ‘What would I have done?’ in response to the conflicts (be they moral or physical) being fought by my favourite protagonists – not all of which were heroes. It was probably about this time I read ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ for the first, but not the last, time. I also read some Sci-fi (‘Dune’ etc.), fantasy (‘Lord Of The Rings’, the Thomas Covenant series), thrillers and crime novels and enjoyed them immensely for the interesting ideas and imagination they brought. They, too, raised important questions but I often struggled to place myself into the story. In case it’s of interest, I also read books by the likes of Tom Sharpe and George MacDonald Fraser both of whom were hugely talented story tellers with a skill for pacey narratives and humour.

I had become a big fan of William Goldman and his ability to write great stories in any genre, not to mention screen plays, and I started to wonder about what it took to be not just a story teller but a writer. In particular a quote from Goldman struck a chord with me (though I don’t think his was the original quote). It went something like, ‘Believe you have secrets to tell.’ From this I inferred that it was ok to have some confidence that you ‘knew’ or ‘saw’ something many others didn’t and finding a way to tell them, in a story, was a worthwhile pursuit.

So I tried to write some stories and it was very, very difficult. By now life, family, work, sport and music was keeping me busy, though I kept reading. All the time I harboured an aspiration to write something that would entertain (that word yet again), might hold up a mirror to the reader, reveal (perceived) secrets and nudge them to ask questions of themselves and others. That was what I’d found in my favourite books and to do all that within a story of my own creation would be an achievement.

Whether I failed or succeeded it would have to be writing the stories I wanted to, in my own style, whatever that might turn out to be… Which is what I’m doing, though it’s not always easy to type with fingers crossed that there’s an audience out there somewhere that will enjoy the engagement, look into the mirror I’m trying to hold up and think about some questions perhaps they hadn’t considered before. Sometimes I write a piece which edges close to achieving those aims (in my view) and occasionally the prose is interesting, perhaps even ‘alive’, in some sense. And on those rare occasions the satisfaction makes the hard work, knock-backs and self-doubt worthwhile – and, boiling it right down, that’s really why I write, for those rare moments.

I should add I also had some small hope that I could write stories which encouraged me to explore and understand some of my own history, background and motivations. To an extent this has been the case but I feel I’m still not clear in my own mind about the success, or otherwise, of that, so perhaps it’s a topic for another time. It may turn out this is the best reason of all for me to write, but it’s early days yet…

I’d like to finish with a big thank you to Tracey for giving me a reason to take a step back and think through some stuff I hadn’t properly considered before.

Paul

Paul on drums

Check out Paul’s novel The Blue Bench here