by ethyl smith
Grandmother and retired lecturer, Ethyl Smith, is a wonderful example of someone whose writing talent blossomed in later life. She has worked as a teacher/lecturer of Graphic Design and is also a qualified holistic-therapist/teacher and British registered hypno-therapist which, she says, has allowed her to meet and interact with a wide range of people and ages – great for any writer. Her debut novel, Changed Times, was published in April 2016 by Thunderpoint Publishing Ltd.
Writing for me is a compulsion. Can’t remember when it began. Having been blessed with an overactive imagination I’ve always loved stories, to immerse myself in a parallel universe.
When I qualified as an illustrator a long time ago I worked to interpret other people’s words. Eventually I began to add some of my own and had those published as books for early readers. Gradually as my own writing improved the words began to take over. That’s where I am now although it has been a slow and tortuous journey.
Having hit 76 I’m beginning to feel anxious lest I won’t get everything down before I fall off my perch. It kinda focuses the mind, especially since I’ve attended four funerals recently of friends with whom I shared much of my miss-spent youth.
I say this because I’m currently writing a five-part series based on 17th century Scotland, the Covenanting times, the ten years between 1679-89 in particular. This was a fascinating, dangerous time for our country where neither side in the struggle between King and subject emerge with a clean conscience. Greed, lust for power, politics, even sheer badness … All the usual subjects were alive and well. In fact I suspect it’s ‘aye been’ as I see similarities in the unravelling of of our troubled world today.
Four years ago I submitted my manuscript to Thunderpoint Publishing. They were the first I approached and glory be they said yes and took me on. They seemed to think I had something to offer and have proved that with continuing belief and support. I am indeed grateful. Without them my words would never reach such a wide range of readers. Also, it’s great to hear from those who contact me and actually say how much they’ve enjoyed reading the books so far, asking when the next one will appear, telling me to hurry up.
An extra bonus has been meeting descendants of my main character John Steel. That I did not expect, especially when one photograph winged in from Sanfrancisco, showing about 100 Steels all waving hello. Another was meeting the Steel family from Lockerbie who came to my event at the Wigtown Festival last year and made themselves known … as well as buying books.
Writing this series is a long haul but enjoyable and I feel very lucky indeed to have been given such an opportunity.
I came to it by accident when I was in a writing group in Lanark. Visit Scotland asked us to prepare some leaflets of places to visit in Clydesdale. I was given Craignethan Castle which I duly visited. It’s interesting and in a beautiful setting but it didn’t excite me. I returned to my group admitting this and offering it to someone else. Someone then suggested I look at the Covenanters in the area. Without much enthusiasm I agreed.
First of all I contacted the archivist of the local historical society who invited me to take a small tour with him. We ended up in Lesmahagow Kirkyard where 8 Covenanters are buried. He told me some of the stories of the martyrs and then added, ‘And of course there’s another one.’ I was immediately curious. Then he said, ‘This one was never caught, lived to tell the tale although he was on the run for ten years.’ That did it. And the more I learnt about this character John Steel the more I knew I wanted to tell his story …. And it all happened by accident.
Research took a few years before I felt confident enough to dive in. Since then I’ve been happily residing in the 17th century, merging fact and fiction, and loving it.
To try and keep up interest in my writing I do a ‘Changed Times’ page on Facebook where I write snippits relating to the period, the people, the good and the not so good, reminding about anniversaries and anything else that comes to mind. It’s written in Scots, and I try to keep it light and entertaining as well as informative. So far people are still regularly reading the offerings. Whether this encourages them to read the books … Well I can only hope.
For many years I contented myself with short stories, mostly in Scots. This was due to pressure of full time work, dealing with a family and not enough hours in the day, but most of all uncertainty that anyone would actually want to read a full-blown novel.
Being published in magazines and winning some competitions helped. Reading aloud to an audience and hearing the laughs or gasps come in the right places is a good feeling. The best one was winning the International Ghost Story at the National Museum where Tim Porteous performed my piece and turned it into a piece of real theatre. I could hardly believe these words were mine. I still smile about it.
What really swung it was completing the Masters Course at Stirling University where I had to focus, to justify what I’d done, to test it against my peers who were incredibly supportive. We also read and read and read, developing a critical eye … all types of stuff. In the end I gained a credit and was told ‘Get on with it.’
As for working alongside much younger people no-one treated me like a dinosaur and simply accepted me as another student. I learnt much from them and not just about writing. We are still in contact, they come to book launches, so age doesn’t seem to be any barrier other than one you might make yourself.
Book 1 ‘Changed Times’ and book 2 ‘Dark Times’ are out there and available. Book 3 ‘Desperate Times’ will hit the shelves later this year. Currently I’m editing book 4 ‘Broken Times.’ The last one of the series ‘The End of Times’ is being researched and thought about so you see the checking out and discovery never stops. As for energy to go out and about visiting sites etc, or concentration to form the words I hear in my head I try not to admit any physical change … although maybe I’m kidding myself…. After all I guess I’m now classed as old…. Or is it just a label?
Three days a week I look after grandchildren and believe me that keeps me moving as well as sometimes providing great moments. At the end of each of these days I still manage to write so the energy level doesn’t seem to vanish altogether.
Since the first book appeared I’ve done many talking events to a wide variety of audiences where I give a Powerpoint Presentation of background history to the time rather than talking about how and why I write as I do. This week I have two to deal with so this extra involvement keeps me from feeling isolated as I write. Some of the questions also help me think about other aspects I might investigate to broaden the story. Taking that next step matters.
So … whatever your age just follow your instinct and see where it takes you. For me it’s writing what is it for you?