My lovely Write Romantic pal, Jo Bartlett, has invited me to take part in the Lovely Blog Hop, in which writers talk about some of the things that shaped their life and writing. Jo’s debut novella, The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come was published in November by Fabrian Books. Her first novel, Among A Thousand Stars, will be published by So Vain Books on June 17th, and she also has a People’s Friend pocket novel coming out in June, so she’s been very busy!
First Memory: The first thing I can remember is sitting on a chair looking out of the dining room window at pouring rain and thinking it wasn’t nice weather for my third birthday. I know a lot of people will think, you can’t have thought that at the age of three, but the memory is very clear. I also remember listening to the soundtrack album of The Sound of Music on my mum’s old Dansette record player in the dining room, and an EP (remember those!) of My Fair Lady. I learnt every word of Wouldn’t it Be Lovely? and On The Street Where You Live. I have a distinct memory of sitting on my little bike in the back garden, watching my mother hanging the washing out and my little sister on her tricycle, and thinking, really sadly, that in a few days I wouldn’t be with them. I had to start school and I felt really upset that they would be together and I would be in a classroom away from there. That memory is so clear, it must really have affected me. I would have been four then. This is me, my sister and brother. I would have been about ten, I think. My mother always insisted on dressing me and my sister in identical outfits which, given that I was two and a half years older than my sister, was pretty galling. When I complained about this a few years ago, my sister pointed out that she’d got the worst of it. She not only had to wear all those wretched crimplene dresses once, but then she got my cast-offs and had to wear them again! I couldn’t complain after that.
Books: Oh, what would my childhood have been without books! They were, without doubt, my best friend, and the thing that got me through some difficult times. No matter who I fell out with at school, no matter if I was in trouble for something at home, no matter if I felt the whole world was against me, I always had books to turn to. I remember very clearly being taught to read at school. I can remember looking at this jumble of letters, and suddenly it was as if they were rearranging themselves into words that made sense. It was fascinating. I was so lucky because I learnt to read really easily and loved it from the first. I feel so sad for people who struggle to read, especially when their difficulties aren’t recognised and they don’t get the help they need to overcome their problems. I just can’t imagine life without books. I remember being given a copy of Noddy by Enid Blyton. I think it was the first book I ever actually owned. Our lovely neighbours were moving house and I was heartbroken. I was swinging on the front gate, watching the removal van being loaded up, when the lady of the house came to say goodbye and gave me and my sister a present each. I can still remember the feeling I had when I tore off the wrapping paper and saw the bright, vibrant colours of Noddy, Big Ears and the little motor car on the cover. I hugged that book to me and cherished it for years. I had a huge collection of Ladybird books. My favourite was Beauty and the Beast. They were so beautifully illustrated and I really regret not keeping them. I was a massive Enid Blyton fan, and my favourite presents at Christmas were always the three Blyton books that Mum and Dad bought me each year. I discovered pony books when I was about eight and from then on, all my pocket money went on them. I remember catching the bus into town every Saturday morning, and heading straight to W H Smith’s to scour the shelves for my next read. In those days, the bookcases were full of pony books. It was the golden age, when I could find Pullein-Thompson, Ruby Ferguson, Patricia Leitch, Judith M Berrisford and K M Peyton books galore. Or sometimes, I’d go the market, to the second hand book stall, and eagerly grab every Monica Edwards book for mere pennies. Happy times! The first “grown-up” books I read were by Catherine Cookson. I read The Dwelling Place and was hooked. Luckily for me, my mum had loads of Catherine Cookson novels so I could read them all quite quickly. I continued to read and collect them, long after I’d left home. I’m still a fan of her writing. It was my mum who introduced me to Jilly Cooper. She’d bought Polo from a book club but thought it “a bit much” and gave it to me because she knew I loved horses. I had never heard of Jilly Cooper. Don’t ask me how I’d missed her because I have no idea. I read it, loved it, and raved about it. My mum bought me Riders for my birthday and that was that. I read all her Rutshire novels and am anxiously waiting for the next one. I love Sue Townsend’s books and, like Jo, I still turn to Adrian Mole when I’m in need of cheering up. It’s so sad to think there will never be another one. I still have a lot of pony books and Enid Blyton books on my shelves and I dip into them now and then. I read lots of romantic fiction these days, of course, but I also love a good supernatural thriller. I love Phil Rickman’s books. I can’t wait to see the television adaptation of his Merrily Watkins books. I also like the Miss Marple books by Agatha Christie. I read a lot of non-fiction, too. Basically, I love books!
Libraries: I remember – I think – my first visit to the library. I’d just been at school and heard the Nativity for the very first time. I was absolutely awe-struck. My parents weren’t religious at all and I’d no idea what this story was about, but I rushed home and told them all about it, and how wonderful it was. My Dad – bless him – suggested we go to the library and find a book about it. He took me there. In those days it was a small place above the town hall – nothing like the purpose-built building that replaced it. I browsed the shelves in delight, and soon found a Ladybird Nativity book to take home. From then on, I went every fortnight or so. with either my mum or dad, or both. I remember finding The Wombles books there, and the Paddington Bear books. I read lots of pony books, of course, and I also went there to find things out. In those days, there was no internet, so most information came from books, and the library was hugely useful for homework, or when I was simply curious about something. Luckily, we didn’t live far from the library, so as I grew older I could just nip round there on my own and spend time sitting at one of the tables by the window, reading to my heart’s content. School libraries were my refuge, and if I had to stay there over the lunch period for any reason I would spend the whole hour after lunch browsing the shelves. My primary school library was where I discovered pony books for the very first time. The middle school library was stacked high with the Collins Pony Library, so I basically lived in that place every spare moment I had! It wasn’t unknown for me to stagger home under the weight of around eleven books. I’m serious! Libraries are so important. I used to take my own children there when they were young, and we’d spend a good hour or more looking for books I hoped they’d enjoy reading, or, more likely, enjoy me reading to them. It’s sad to see so many libraries closing.
What’s Your Passion? Apart from books, writing and being with my family, I think my main passion is going to new places and discovering beautiful villages and buildings that I’ve never seen before. I don’t travel far. I’ve never been abroad. It wasn’t a conscious decision. My parents couldn’t afford to take us abroad when we were young, and then, when I was all grown up with five children of my own, the cost for seven of us to go abroad was way out of our price range, so I’ve never even had a passport. Now, I just think there are so many gorgeous places in the UK that I’m happy enough to visit those. I even love finding new routes to places we’ve been before, just so that we can see different things on the way. I’m well-known in our family for always nagging to take the scenic route wherever we go. I love visiting castles and abbeys and country houses. I’m also really interested in history and I watch lots of history programmes. I wish history had been as entertaining at school. Unfortunately, learning about the industrial revolution and the dates of the corn laws and the invention of the steam engine just didn’t do it for me, and I lost all will to learn. Which brings me onto…
Learning: I didn’t do as well as I could have, or should have, at school. I liked to have a giggle, and I didn’t really see the point of lessons. Nothing really grabbed my attention except for English and English Literature. I worked hard in those two subjects and was rewarded with good ‘O’ level results. Two ‘O’ levels and five average CSEs wasn’t a great result and I should have tried much harder. I had the ability, just not the inclination. I’ve done most of my learning since leaving school. I’ve taken various college courses and distance courses, and I studied for six years with the Open University and got an upper second class Honours degree in literature. I would love to do more studying, but the cost is prohibitive. I’d have liked to do my Masters in literature but the price is way out of my range now. I’d also liked to have done a second degree, perhaps in history. The main thing is to keep reading, keep watching documentaries, keep your mind open to learning. It’s not really about certificates and qualifications. Learning certainly doesn’t end with school, or even university. It’s a life long process and a very enjoyable one.
Writing: I love writing. I’ve written stories ever since I could form words on the page, and I’m always writing, even if it’s only in my head when I should be doing other things! Since knowing my books were going to be published, though, I’ve found that I’ve been distracted by social media. You have to promote your books and that takes up so much time. Long before my first book was even finished I was “building my author platform”, networking on Facebook and Twitter, setting up this blog… It all takes me away from actual writing time. Then there’s the pressure of Amazon sales ranks, not to mention reviews – whether it’s the problem of how to get them or worrying that the ones you do get will be bad ones. That kind of sucks the joy out of writing, to be honest, so I’m trying to just get back to writing stories I’d love to read. I’m trying to remember what it felt like just to write for myself, without worrying what other people would think of my stories or how well it would do with buyers and reviewers. I want to make friends with my heroines, fall in love with my heroes, and have fun creating some naughty villains, all without worrying about what anyone else will think. I’m going to be concentrating a lot more on the actual writing and less on the social media and blogging. After doing the A to Z blogging challenge recently, I’m quite blogged out! It may be quiet on here for a few weeks…
This is the part where I’m supposed to hand over to another blogger, but with all the rush to finish the A to Z challenge and complete this post I completely forgot to ask anyone if they wanted to do it. So, if any of you want to do the Lovely Blog Tour just let me know and I’ll tag you in this post.
Have a good week xx