My tea is steaming so I’ll type and it will cool down as my fingers work their way to the end of this, my first blog.
I drink cold tea most days. There’s usually something more pressing than getting to drink hot tea. It could be writing a bit of promotional material, or checking a website. Or continuing with my latest project to get noticed as an up-and-coming author, or to put everything in place so I can make my fortune by running my business from home. Oh and yes, I will need to pick the children up from school, attend reading club beforehand and prepare for the latest school governor’s meeting. Maybe tomorrow, and only after I’ve cleaned the bathroom, I’ll get back to work on my new book.
I started enjoying creative writing at a reasonably young age. My mother recently handed me a batch of school reports, which along with the numerous ‘Catherine tries hard’ comments is a hint of something in the line written by Mrs Farrow, the form teacher who brought everything together in my final year at Queen Edith’s County Primary School. ‘Poetry is her forté,’ Mrs Farrow wrote. I have always remembered this. Thank you Mrs Farrow. And from another of my most favourite teachers (we both had frizzy hairstyles) Miss Faben in Class 5 (Year 4) there is, ‘Stories interesting and well written.’
I tell you about my primary school days because I remember the pride of having my poetry (mostly rhyming) pinned up on the walls of various classrooms as I weaved through the school years. The encouragement from this time is lasting and I have to say I still try to be poetic in my writing. It is the feeling a pattern of sentences or collection of words evokes that interests me most, and I try hard to present my stories and songs in similar creative fashion.
I started song writing just as soon as I could play the guitar at the age of nine. Thank you Mr Ife, Class 2 (Year 5), always smiling. My mother duly sent in a tape of five songs I had recorded to Roger Whittaker who had a slot on the radio at the time. Roger replied, very politely, and suggested I should continue.
At this point I will spare you my musical history, of how I could have learned to read music and therefore allowed myself a chance of superstardom, and of my life history, where I forwent university in favour of a business linguist course nearer to home. I will also put off a splurge on my happy and successful career, which keeps the writing thread attached. But I will note very briefly the early days of my song writing, as they contain an important link to the context of my first novel thirty years later.
I have a folder of over 100 songs and many more beginnings of songs I have written with my guitar. I like vocal or instrumental harmonies in music. Inspired primarily by the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and the harmonised groups of the sixties, by the country music playing out on our music centre, musicals on tv, and later by the Cambridge Folk Festival and artists such as Kirsty McColl and Kate & Anna McGarrigle, my song writing began with basic ballads, and when I reached secondary school I began to perform to the public. I teamed up with my best friend Hilary and we would sing and play to a large group of elderly visitors in the school youth club, or later at school reviews. Needless to say, our harmonies were our forté and the song writing began to roll.
I wrote it because I would try for many years to come up with a mystery story in my head. I’d been an avid Agatha Christie reader and I believe I must have coupled the excitement of these mysteries with the stories of Daphne du Maurier, Victoria Holt and others, and bound with these the experiences of my even younger reading days with Enid Blyton. Add to this the language skills, the story crafting and the drama of Shakespeare, which continue to fascinate me to this day, and the seeds had been sown. My songs with their verses, middle eights, instrumentals, and verse repeats gave me patterns of structure I understood and could transfer in some way to my writing. Of course there have since been many more creative influences that have nurtured the book and which include, I am proud to say, the strong writing skills of my parents.
I finished Whirl of the Wheel early this year. It is a traditional adventure into World War II for children and young adults, light reading with a mystery and a bit of a twist. But more than anything it’s a story led by a normal girl who happens to be in a wheelchair . . . Connie is modelled on my best friend Hilary’s daughter, Katie.
I have attempted to make Whirl of the Wheel a fun book and Connie and her brother Charlie-Mouse make that happen. But the story brings with it a certain reality of war in a way that may educate. And for me, ‘living the experiences’ of each of the characters and writing letters from the evacuees, Kit and Bert, were the most enjoyable parts of all.
The book has been a great adventure . . . one of my projects, yes, but the one that has given me the greatest challenges and most focus. It has taken me willingly from factual editor all the way back to my poetry beginnings at primary school and taught me that it’s okay to write for pleasure and to be proud of what can be achieved.
My writing challenges are growing along with my children too. I am moving my target age group accordingly. For my next project (after the sparkling bathroom sink) I am getting to grips with a young adult thriller and both will be old enough to enjoy it by the time the book is finished. A whodunnit? Not quite, a bit more at the pace of the Bourne Identity, but to music I think.
But before I get too detailed, I think I’m going to have to ask you to hold the post here because I have to rush off to reading club. It’s 2.30pm, and I’ve noticed that as I go I need to clear away two full teacups of varying temperature from the dining table behind me.