Photo by George Lammie

Not there yet and loving every minute

“Not there yet and loving every minute” - I created this saying about twenty years ago when I first started writing and it is still as relevant today as it was back in the year 2000.

I was a late starter. I can’t remember having the urge to write when I was young but I have always been a voracious reader.

My domestic life and late career progression reads a bit like a soap opera; married at eighteen, two children by the age of twenty one, low wages and eventual divorce, single parenthood, evening classes, undergraduate in my late thirties and then a dream job with Shell, world travel and second marriage. ‘You could write a book,’ a friend said.

I didn’t write that book but that throw away comment did make me think that maybe I could tell stories. I certainly had plenty to tell.

My first venture into creative writing was in the early noughties. My children were adults, I’d just moved to Glasgow, remarried and worked in a service centre for Shell Oil. I joined a creative writing evening class at Strathclyde University. Nearly everyone in the class was much younger than me. Because I worked in finance my writing style was formal but I had an encouraging tutor and when my work took me abroad she allowed me to continue my course even though I missed some classes. The traveling meant I had even more stories to tell. After some success in short story writing I began a novel. Although I was born in the Scottish Borders, my family moved to England when I was a baby. We then relocated to a Fife mining village in the early 1960s. As children with English accents, my siblings and I were treated as aliens. This feeling of alienation gave me the idea for my first novel, The Incomers, but I wondered who would want to read it. Not long after starting the novel I attended a course at Moniack Mhor where the tutor told me that my home location might be boring to me, to readers a mining village is exotic. That was my cue to keep going. I was then in my mid-forties but I took heart in the fact that one of my favourite authors, Annie Proulx, famously published her first novel at the age of fifty seven years old. There was time for me yet.
After too many hours spent on long haul flights for my job, I gave up my career with Shell and became a full time writer.

My debut novel The Incomers was published in 2012 when I was 54 years old.
It was shortlisted for the Saltire First book award and was very well received by the reading public. I am very proud of that book but the Scottish Literary scene is small and literary success is short lived. I knew the second book would be even harder to write but it had to be done and done well What came next took me by surprise. I had a dream, a full technicolour, beginning to end dream, and it was a great story. I first wrote the dream as a short story but knew I needed to create a broken future world as the landscape. I resisted for a while - this felt too much like Sci-Fi. I didn’t read Sci-Fi and I didn’t want to write Sci-Fi. That was until I read authors like Margaret Atwood, Ray Bradbury, Iain M Banks and Kurt Vonnegut. I loved their writing and realised that I could tell my story in the future after all. In 2012/13 I wrote Ways of the Doomed, book #1 of The Sun Song Trilogy set in Scotland and Europe in the year 2089 and covering issues like climate change, right wing politics and diminishing world resources. Because the protagonist in the first book is a sixteen year old boy my publisher chose to aim for the Young Adult market. This meant that in my late fifties I had to start visiting schools.

To help me navigate into this new environment of children’s books I joined SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) and suddenly I was surrounded by bubbly, young children’s writers. I felt a fraud. Although I had a young outlook and boundless enthusiasm and energy I often found school visits draining and I began to question their merit.
Then a couple of years ago two things happened, my husband retired and I underwent aggressive cancer treatment. I continued writing and editing during that period, but by the time Wants of the Silent, book #2 of the trilogy, was ready for publication I had reassessed what I wanted from my writing career.

In the past I have promoted relentlessly, often for little reward. I decided I would not seek out work but would only take on jobs offered to me that were of interest. I am a granny, I wanted to spend more time with my grandchildren. I have a campervan I wanted to travel more, I play traditional music, I could spend more time practising and going to folk festivals.

That was the plan - it hasn’t quite worked out that way.
The last of my trilogy, Star of Hope, was published on 28th February this year and since Christmas I have been working hard on the publicity, updating my website and social media outlets, providing content for guest blogs (like this one), appearing at open mic events to get my name circulating round the literary circuit again. I have just taken on a job to review books for a new magazine aimed at women 60 plus. I have been representing Mountaineering Scotland on a project called Into The Mountain inspired by Nan Shepherd’s unique book The Living Mountain. And I continue to be on the Scottish Pen Committee for Writers In Exile including being an editor for their PENning magazine.
So what’s different from what I had before?

I have no book contract for one thing so I can please myself what I write. I love my trilogy and the characters that have been in my head for the last seven years, but I am looking forward to writing something different. I see how hard some writers have to work to make a living. I no longer need to worry about that, I have my Shell pension, I can please myself. Some younger writers call me lucky, but luck has had nothing to do with it. I have worked hard all my life. As a young mother bringing up my sons alone whilst working full time and studying; as a so called ‘jetsetter’ travelling the world and spending half the time jet lagged and the other half visiting my aged parent and sons whenever I was home; as an older writer starting a writing CV from scratch.

I have a new book to promote so the hard work continues for a while but I know things will settle down in a couple of weeks and I can go back to working on my pet projects and things I enjoy.
I will never give up writing. I plan to go back to literary short fiction and to entering in competitions. I am immensely proud of my four published books and I will never stop promoting them, but I’ll promote them on my terms.
“Not there yet and loving every minute”
I’m still not there. I am now over sixty and know the most important thing for me now is to stay happy and healthy to allow me time to tell my stories, but in October I took a podcasting course and for Christmas I received a Zoom recorder and earphones. I plan to put some of my short fiction into audio but first I must master podcasting. And I’ve never forgotten the comments that I could write about my previous life soap opera. My current work in progress is call Twenty True Tales of a Lucky Escape which is a series of linked semi-autobiographical stories told in the Fife Dialect. They are great fun to write and are fantastic material to perform live. So far the reception of them has been good. Once they are finished I need to consider what to do with them. Do I go through all the pain of submitting to an agent or publisher or do I learn yet another new skill and self-publish them? Whatever I decide I will welcome this new chapter in my journey.