First and foremost, I would like to thank the lovely Rachel for having me on her blog today. Like me, she is also a writer who takes time out of her busy schedule to promote other writers.
It’s Not A Life, It’s An Adventure!
So, today is the official book launch for the paperback version of my debut novel 183 Times A Year, kindly being thrown for me by the lovely Jacqui and her team at Waterstones in Peterborough. It is also, if I’m honest, a bit of a dream come true because, although it has all happened reasonably quickly, it has also been a long time coming.
For as long as I can remember I have loved books and loved reading them. I treasured the possibilities books provided and the alternative worlds that opened up to me, as well as travelling backwards and forwards in time. Some of the more memorable books from my childhood include Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and The wardrobe, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I’m not sure why these five books in particular stand out in my memory, aside from being brilliant stories of course, I think I just enjoyed them or they resonated or spoke to me, perhaps at a time when things in the world didn’t always make sense.
However, as well as my love of reading, I quickly realised that I also enjoyed writing too. I won a story competition at junior school where a picture of a fairy came to life and flew off the page. I wrote amusing and sometimes soppy poems to boyfriends when I was in my teens and I wrote several short stories in my twenties. I also joined a band with one of my brothers during my twenties. Playing mostly local gigs, I provided backing vocals for the band as well as co-writing many of their original songs (I think my Mum has kept a lot the recordings!). I loved writing, recording and performing songs but I always secretly harboured the desire to write a novel.
After a couple of years, the band broke up and we all went our separate ways. I still believed that one day I would write a book but I never seemed to get round to it, often convincing myself the time wasn’t right. Eventually, during my mid-twenties, I met someone and fell in love. We married a couple of years later, quickly having two wonderful children. I loved being a Mum but often found it exhausting, especially as my daughter never seemed to sleep. I soon realised that being a busy parent of two very small, very demanding children, meant any thoughts of writing were quickly forced to the back of my mind – although the desire to write still remained with me. Unfortunately, by the time my oldest child, my daughter, was five years old, my husband and I separated and sadly we divorced two years later.
It wasn’t particularly easy being the single parent of two young children, either for myself or them, but I felt determined to pick myself up and carry on. When it came to my children I wanted to lead by example. We moved into a small three-bedroom house and I found myself a job. I then enrolled at the local college and studied for two evenings a week for two years. The course I enrolled on was an Access to Higher Education course studying English, History, Sociology and Psychology which I thoroughly enjoyed. Don’t get me wrong, balancing a job and the care of two dependent children whilst studying wasn’t easy but it was worth every minute. I made some wonderful friends and had some brilliant tutors.
At the end of the two years I’m pleased to say I completed the Access course. Encouraged by my tutors, I then enrolled to study full-time for a Degree in English and History. However, I still had to pay the mortgage and I still had two young children to care for so I still had to work but, somehow, I juggled my responsibilities and commitments and three years later I graduated from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge with a joint BA Honours Degree in English and History, gaining a first and winning an award for my History dissertation which looked at the bombing of London and its effect on The People’s War during WWII.
I look back at that time with fondness but I also remember it as a weary blur – I don’t think I slept for three years! I made some life-long friends though and my children were and are very proud of me.
After completing my Degree, I well and truly had the writing bug. I sat down and started to write a story I’d been carrying in my head for some time. It was a crime thriller, about a young couple living in 1960’s London. However, I got to 45,000 words and stopped. I needed to do much more research for the story and I kind of lost the momentum to finish it, mainly because I suddenly felt inspired to write something else. Something much more contemporary and much more present, which turned out to be my debut novel, 183 Times A Year, a humorous observation of contemporary family life.
It is the women in my life, including my mother, daughters’ and good friends that inspired me to write this story. I wanted to show people the extraordinary amongst the ordinary. For, despite living in a world of advanced technology, where everything is available to us, and anyone with opposable thumbs can document, broadcast, and stream just about anything, smartphone in hand of course, it also feels, at times, like a lonelier, more insular place. It’s easy to believe when scrolling through our friend’s social media pages that somehow everyone else has got it right and yours is the only dysfunctional family on the planet – which just isn’t true of course.
My daughter is now 19-years old and my son is 17. I’m also a step mum to my other half’s son and daughter who are both now in their twenties. Ours is a blended family and like most families, we’ve had our ups and downs. Parenting, including step-parenting, isn’t easy. At times it can be difficult and challenging, especially with teenagers, but it can also be extremely rewarding. I have many friends with children, some are blended families, some not, and many of the problems that arise in my novel are common to most families. However, although tragic at times, 183 Times A Year has many laugh out loud moments. It is an amusing exploration of domestic love, hate, strength and ultimately friendship. A poignant, heartfelt look at that complex and diverse relationship between a Mother and daughter set amongst the thorny realities of today’s divided and extended families.
“It’s not a life, it’s an adventure” is one of the tag lines used in my book and although I take credit for it, it’s not actually mine – it’s my Dad’s. Whenever times have been difficult or life seems a struggle, my Dad has always reminded me of two things – “nothing ever stays the same” and, “it’s not a life, it’s an adventure.” These two ideals, I find, are worth remembering during the good times as well as the bad. To these two quotes I also add two more, slightly better known ones – “you’re never too old” and, “it’s never too late.” I’ve always wanted to write a book and finally, in my late forties, I’ve achieved it. I hope, and plan to go on and write many more books – perhaps I’ll even go back to the half-finished one concerning the young couple from the 1960’s, locked away on my computer – but, if I don’t, I’ll always know I achieved a life-long ambition.
Now released as a paperback, you can find or order 183 Times A Year as both an ebook or paperback through most bookshops and retailers including Waterstones and W H Smiths, Amazon, iBooks, Nook and Google Play.
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