Lovely to see you. Take a seat. Mind my notes for stories and articles, please – you can read them when they’re finished.
So tell us about the writing.
My first writing success was at junior school. We regularly wrote letters to our ‘tame’ sailor as he toured the world with the Royal Navy. I have no idea what I wrote in the final competition letter, but it won me an embroidered Cape Canaveral badge commemorating the first space shuttle flight (which I remember watching on a TV in school time!). How exciting. I once freeze-framed Remembrance of the Daleks because I’d suddenly spotted that Ace had the same badge on her bomber jacket!
In my teens I wrote on and off, starting a novel with my friend Gina – ‘Murder on the Gillingham Only’, a train-based thriller which she has refused to help me with in the many years since, citing feeble excuses such as ‘I’m too busy getting the Olympic Stadium built on time’ and ‘I’ve moved to Hong Kong’ (pah!).
So that was it? You stopped writing?
I don’t think I ever stopped writing entirely but when I was younger it seemed like something other people did for a living. I was busy with day jobs and life! But while I was studying for a degree with the OU they developed a Creative Writing module then a diploma just as the writing bug bit again. Even then, Life Happened and sometimes the writing still took a back seat (sometimes, so far back that the rear view mirror needed a magnifying attachment). But there was progress. I was short-listed four times for short story and poetry competitions, and one of my stories was published in March 2011 in the 100 Stories for Queensland anthology (which you can read about here). I’ve had a sci-fi drabble published too in another anthology, and ghost-written a chick lit novel published by Penrose Publishing.
I now have a first class BA Hons in Literature and a Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing, but my husband says this only confirms what he’s always known – I’m a Dip.
You mentioned your husband. Have your family been supportive?
It’s hard for families – and friends – to realise that firstly, writing is like any other skill; writers have to serve a kind of apprenticeship, and learn their trade; but that secondly, writing is unlike any other skill (except perhaps art), in that you can serve your apprenticeship and be a brilliant writer, but still need a lot of enterprise and luck to get anywhere. Oh and thirdly, people need to realise that ‘writer’ does not mean ‘novelist’; they’re not mutually exclusive terms, but they’re not one and the same, either! The vast majority of writers don’t make their living from churning out best-selling novels. They write manuals, web content, leaflets, guidebooks, articles, non-fiction, biography, charity newsletters… the list is endless. And often, these days, they have another job too.
Luckily for me, my family have always been very supportive, although the support does wane when I’ve forgotten to cook dinner, go to the post office etc. They are definitely my biggest fans. And I have some very supportive friends too.
You live in west Cambridgeshire. Did you grow up there?
No, more’s the pity! I love Cambridgeshire. I love the rivers, the nature reserves and the tranquillity of a county that still consists of so many rural communities. It is very flat though! It’s good to go to Yorkshire or Scotland on holiday and get a view of an actual hill!
I was born in the Medway Towns in Kent fjdsfhhf years ago, as were my husband and both our children. We moved to Cambridgeshire in 2007 to escape traffic, the sheer volume of people and the rising crime. It was a move we’d considered before, but when the house behind ours was raided for growing cannabis, drug dealing, and the making of incendiary devices (that’s bombs to you and me), it seemd a good time to go. I like the fact that instead of being able to name four families who keep guns in their house, I can now name four families who keep chickens in their garden, instead.
You mentioned your ‘day jobs’. What was your first? Do you miss it?
When I left school after A levels, I wandered into hospital pharmacy in the NHS, courtesy of a lack of direction and a Saturday job in a chemist. At that stage writing sat on a shelf hidden behind pharmaceutical textbooks as I worked my way up amongst lotions, potions, and patients who threw up on me when I was giving them asthma counselling. I stayed there for 13 years. Do I miss it? Well, I missed the money, as none of my later jobs were as well paid (I know – hard to believe!). But I miss the atmosphere; I loved working in a hospital because you form bonds with such a wide variety of people (unless you’re a foolishly snobby consultant!).
Is that where you met your husband?
No, although strangely he did work for the company contracted to fix the pharmacy photocopier at one of the hospitals I worked at -although he didn’t turn up to fix it until we were already going out! I met him through a friend, in 1991 and married him in 1992. He obviously realised his mistake, because within weeks he deliberately developed a rare tumour and tried to die on me six months later. But he was unsuccessful and I still have him trapped In My Evil Web of Doom (mwahaha!!).
What other jobs have you had?
After the patter of tiny expensive Clarks shoes, I worked part-time (had to pay for the shoes) and also became a parent-helper when child 1 (Arty Daughter) started school. I enjoyed it so much that I later qualified as a Teaching Assistant, and for a while worked a TA job in the week and pharmacy at weekends. I also had stints as an Avon Lady, a telephone researcher and an online retailer with my own business. I like variety, you see.
Since then I’ve qualified as a Teaching Assistant for Adult Learners, and worked as an Adult Literacy Tutor, Sixth Form Mentor, Midday Supervisor and an Equality & Diversity Needs Co-coordinator (and webmistress!) in Early Years.
When you’re not writing, what do you get up to?
I like to read (often sci-fi, biography, travel or history), visit beautiful or historical places, watch TV (sci-fi, documentaries, humorous quizzes like QI), walk in the countryside (preferably towards somewhere with a lovely view and a pub), spend time with family and friends, and do something craft-related every so often. I’m not really into video games but do have short spells of addiction to the PC game Pharaoh. As I’ve spent so many years studying for one qualification or another, it feels quite odd not to be studying anything, but studying has become far more expensive – otherwise, I think I’d be halfway through an MA.
So what’s going on in your life now?
I’m happily settled in a west Cambs village with a very friendly community atmosphere, which is important to me. Even better, over the last couple of years friends have started to drift in our direction and settle close to us, which is lovely. My husband is an IT guru which is brilliant because he knows what to do when I have an IT disaster. My daughter is an artist (I’m in awe of her talent) and does a lot of her work on the computer too, so we’re lucky to have him around! My son is a great writer but he’s not interested in pursuing it at all; currently, his eyes are on the stars and a possible career in astrophysics.
These days I’m the health columnist for the Discover magazine group and chiefly earn a living as a freelance writer and editor. Publication is a regular occurrence, but it’s non-fiction (because that’s where the guaranteed pennies come from); I’m still trying to find the time and the right stories to get more fiction published. I still work part-time in Early Years, but have swapped my ENCo hat for a Literacy Coordinator one, taking older preschoolers for focussed literacy sessions – often in the library, which I’m praying will not close! It keeps me in touch with stories and other human beings – and children really DO say the funniest things. Honestly. There’s a book in there somewhere…