I wrote this some time ago (Feb 2019) but it seems more pertinent now.

Don’t worry, I’ve not gone all trendily ‘hygge’ but when the weather turns cold and the nights are dark, then staying in hugely appeals to me. If I’m writing a book, I am never alone anyway. There’s always research to do, books to read, and writing to refine, a process which I thoroughly enjoy. Parties, socialising? Not usually bothered. Give me the solitary occupation of writing, and I’m as happy as the proverbial Larry!

Desk stuff!

Sometimes, I sit at my desk so long that my back aches, and I don’t even notice that the heating has gone off! That’s how embroiled I get in the process. Writing is, to me, like breathing. I cannot imagine a life without it.

My writing takes various forms. To start my day, I usually compile or curate (that’s a good word) information to disseminate on my local website, Bude & Beyond. This is now my routine! Interestingly, I don’t always realise the value of the site but many people read and enjoy it. To quantify, the stats tell me that we get on average over 1000 views a day. People read what I write. It makes what I do for the local community seem worthwhile. ‘Free’ (of charge to the end user) isn’t always without value.

Design by the amazing Dean Wronowski. He and Rob Wilcox sort out my IT, thank goodness!

For me, book writing takes two forms. There are the books I’ve written because they have been commissioned by a publisher. These are more a job of work, and sometimes feel like it, too, but they are good discipline, forcing me to write about things I might not otherwise tackle. In the past, I edited and published books, the focus on accuracy, speed and saleability. Books become very precious to the author, but to the publisher, they are income-generating objects. I quickly learned as a writer to be less protective about my work, to accept editorial advice (although I have not actually had much to date) and see books as units of sale. They are not my children. My children are my children and I love and clamour to protect them so much it aches, no matter what age they are.

The Bude books kindly commissioned by Amberley Publishing.

Now, a deep fascination has to grip me to spark off a new book idea. Previously, as a mother of young children, I co-wrote books on labour/birth, stillbirth and neonatal death and infertility and IVF (via an independent publisher, Scarlet Press). These were all based around parental perspectives/interviews with parents, because we only ever formally heard the official, medical views, so I wanted women (mothers particularly) to be heard. What was it really like to endure a stillbirth or infertility or get through difficult labour? I found out, in spades, from people who very honestly shared the most private and emotional parts of their lives with me. What an amazing privilege. Interviewing people about what really matters to them is completely rewarding. At that time, I was also writing regular features for various baby magazines. You can see where my interests lay!

My first book …

My most recent book grew from a local history commission. I encountered the fascinating artist, Pamela Colman Smith, when researching Bude, where she died. My interest was sparked and she became my enduring passion until I completed my manuscript in August, which has finally been published by Fonthill Media. Yay!

Copyright permission National Trust, so please don’t use the image.

She has now been succeeded in my creative imagination by Charlotte Payne-Townshend, wife of George Bernard Shaw, a confidante of Lawrence of Arabia, and an intriguing woman in her own right. I don’t spend nearly enough time on Charlotte as I am a pro copywriter and that’s where the money is, not in labours of love. I enjoy that too, as it is a different form of challenge to wax superlative to order.

Research

Once I get the bug, then I can’t let go. You can see from this little tale of Affetside School from many years ago that I have terrier-like qualities, something I also apply to my book research. This case went to the Appeal Court of the High Court. and it was really quite hard going, requiring many hours of grappling with legalities, using my best, most logical legal brain as there is little that’s creative about the law.

Photo by Joanne Wilcock

Then there’s the editing, my old job for many years! I do less of this now because I no longer work as a publisher, but I so enjoyed choosing manuscripts and working on them to make them as good as they could possibly be, giving people living extraordinary ordinary lives a chance to tell their stories.

The late John Nicklin, trawlerman from Hull, was an amazing character, his speech littered with expletives. As you may imagine, his book required quite some editing! But what an amazing story and I still have a copy. Made me never ever want to endure the hardships of trawler life, fortunately, an unlikely event for me.

The Land Army wasn’t my thing, but it’s a great example of editing a book because you have to. Knighton did a good job though and it sold well. I enjoyed publishing books about women’s work and lives.

The author wanted to call this ‘The Smell of Christmas’ but as a publisher, I knew this would limit sales. Editing the book, I read of a woman millworker exclaiming the mill was covered in ‘snow’; there was ‘cotton everywhere’. I had my title, and again, another popular local interest book was born. I loved my work!

So, Coronavirus or no Coronavirus, I never get bored at home.

Invite me out in spring! Well, that’s how I finished off in 2019, but now with social distancing maybe it will be summer instead!