I didn’t have the most traditional route to becoming a published author, starting with, but not limited to, being (quite) dyslexic. I also had a fairly intensive job, two kids, two step sons and a husband to look after. But life has a way of twisting down unexpected paths, and even when disaster strikes, sometimes there is an obvious silver lining.
Despite struggling with words, particularly getting them down on paper, I have always written. When I’ve needed to make sense of emotions, or understand something, I’ve always written my thoughts down, so I guess in a way I have always been a writer of sorts, but I never had any ambition of being published.
Back in August 2015 I had a wobble that resulted in breaking both of my legs, at the same time. I know, I know! Breaking one is bad luck, but breaking both is just careless. Anyway, this post isn’t about that (I can hear a collective sigh of relief!) but if you appreciate the macabre, you can read all about what it was like and how I got back on my feet again here.
Needless to say though, because I completely mangled one of them, I was off my feet for a LONG time. So for the first time in probably well over ten years, I had a lot of space to think, be creative, and not just fire fight all the time. To be honest, that was cool, it was breathing space, and I needed it.
With all that space, my mind began to roam, and pictures started to take shape.
Now whenever I wasn’t at home, with two legs in casts, my day job was, and still is, as an Environmental Education Officer, and I have two boys, who have potentially never given the environment a second thought. So this is what was giving the pictures in my head some shape.
I wanted to teach them that they needed to start considering the impact that they (and we all) have on this planet, but I didn’t want to lecture. At least one, and probably both of my boys are autistic, communication sometimes needs to come in from an adjacent direction and I wanted it to be fun. So, I wrote a story, one that I hoped they could relate to, especially since we were in the run up to Christmas.
What if Santa couldn’t make any toys because we had used up all the Earth’s resources? We watch a lot of David Attenborough, so the boys already know that Santa is in a bit of a fix because the North Pole is melting; this would really compound matters. Would the idea of potentially no Christmas presents focus their minds?
The short answer to that was undoubtedly yes. Christmas, with no presents horrified their capitalist little minds, I had my hook. I should say that when I told them the story, I didn’t say anything about me writing it, and they were hanging on every word and if I told them I wrote it, that would have diminished the effect. I was curious about their focus which was unusual, the youngest can struggle with concentration, so this made me wonder about how others might react; it also gave me the confidence to test a wider audience. Again, the feedback was really good.
This is where planets must have been in alignment for a brief moment, because a new publishing house was opening in Belfast, and there was a call for authors to pitch their work. They were open to all pitches, and I had nothing to lose. So I sent them the manuscript… which they accepted.
Holy Cow – I was going to be a published author!
Hang on… A children’s book NEEDS pictures. I can draw a little bit, but I am not an illustrator. Enter stage left, my sculptress friend.
I met Jo in the P1 playground. Our boys were in the same class, and d’you know how sometimes you just get a good feeling about someone? Well, I had that about her, and kind of pounced on the poor girl, and told her we were going to be friends. Which we are, and as it turns out we have LOADS in common beyond the boys (she’s a fellow veggie, a hippy chick and all round good egg).
Yep, that Jo also happens to be an exceptionally talented artist, who admittedly usually works in 3D. But I have no shame, and asked if she would draw me some illustrations – she said yes!
So amid the flurry of editing, and re-editing the text, and turning the (proper!) hand drawn illustrations into digital images – for which I have another friend to thank (thank you Bob!) I was finally ready to send everything to my publisher – Tina Calder at Excalibur Press Belfast.
Bear in mind this is a Christmas book; it’s now mid October and I’m walking on a zimmer frame.
Still, somehow or other, Tina did her do, wove her magic, and got the project turned round, It’s November, I had my book. Now what?
It needs launched. Remarkably for NI one of our local MLA’s is Steven Agnew is from the Green Party; admittedly it was a bit brazen, but I sent him a copy. My wee story, the one wot I wrote for my kids, was endorsed by the NI Green Party! I was invited to launch it at Stormont (that’s the NI Parliament). Pinch me I’m dreaming!
So there it is. My Book, The Letter From Santa is out there. Its endorsed by the Green Party and I use it in my work with Belfast City Council, reading it to school children during December. Given my background, it’s set up to deliver quite a large section of the NI Curriculum (The World Around Us) and fits very neatly into the P5 year.
I have since recorded an audio version that is available with a Christmas Card and am almost ready to launch a second edition with an activity pack.
Had I not wobbled that fateful day in August, none of this would ever have happened. Now I’m left with a weakness in that leg, it’ll never be exactly as it was, and it was a hell of a road to recovery, but it wasn’t all bad. In the end it gave me an opportunity to surprise myself, jump out of my comfort zone and reach a new goal.
If you are in the middle of a challenging time right now, I can empathise. I’m not going to tell you everything will be alright, or that your life will go back to how it was before, but you might find some unexpected bonuses, or strengths you never knew you had.