I am a writer.
First, before I was a published writer, I studied languages. Then I was a teacher, of many subjects, to many age groups.
I had a daughter, and became a freelance translator. My first professional translation was an ophthalmologist’s report on a Venezuelan racehorse. I hope he survived the proposed operation, as my expertise on both horses and ophthalmology was minimal.
I had a son, and briefly I was a journalist. Quite often I wrote about nappies. On that subject I was, by this time, more knowledgeable.
Then I was a teacher again.
Then, one year in the middle of my life, I went on holiday! Of course, I’d had holidays before, but this was the mother of all holidays. An eye opener, a soul search, a dance and a song of a holiday and when I came back I was different.
I was still a teacher, still a translator; still, very importantly, a mother. But now a singer too. A second soprano with an idea for a novel.
The following year I returned to my holiday. This time I learned about yoga and t’ai chi, and the novel grew a little bit more. As it had the first time, it seemed to me that this holiday type and setting would be the perfect location for a whodunit.
At 10,000 words I got stuck, but I still went on those holidays. I still sang – top sop now -and I went to the mosaics class. I was beginning to be someone who listened and comforted as well as berating myself and yammering on at others. I was putting the pieces together.
Three years passed and the words returned. I found my holidays had turned into the first half of a book: a book with a little ‘whydunnit’ and even some ‘howdunnit’, although I found my original idea of a ‘whodunit’ just wouldn’t quite work. So mostly it became a psychological exploration of individuals and communities in conflict, all searching for the right way to move forward in a changing world.
Tentatively, I began to ask around. Would this friend read an extract? Would that friend comment?
More months passed and my setting became more real than my reality; my fictional characters muscled past my flesh and blood friends. They had stood stonily, like Easter Island statues refusing to interact, but now they began to converse. They told me what to tackle next.
I snipped up the plot, moved it around, brought the middle to the beginning and by doing so found my way to the end.
I fretted. I got an agent and made him fret too. We sent it to editors. They proved that it’s possible to be both peevish and constructive at the same time. The book wasn’t for the right market, didn’t have the right tone. It was too lowbrow, too highbrow; hadn’t enough plot; had too much incidental plot; was too real; too unlikely. Good writing though. Great setting. A theme for our times; an original theme. Someone – but not my firm -should publish this, all the editors said.
So we published my novel The Infinity Pool on Kindle. I swallowed my misgivings (there is nothing like this game! One day you think you have written a work, or at least a sentence, of genius, and the next morning your words make you cringe). I told all my friends and family, my colleagues, the builders working on my house, the hairdresser and the accountant and the optician. Shamelessly I summoned up those I had lost touch with decades before and told them. I invented connections with anyone and everyone who could be useful and attempted the strange business of marketing this product that might be too lowbrow, or too highbrow, but was nonetheless what I had achieved over four years and through many dreams.
Here we are in late 2015 and I can’t believe the kindness with which my book was welcomed. It was the unconditional warmth shown to a new baby. However it may grow up, whatever good or bad it may do in the world, I have been congratulated and praised and encouraged and patted on the back by friends, and , most touchingly, by strangers in the online reading and writing communities. The generosity of other human beings has been surprising and humbling. Always from now on I’ll bother to review a book I’ve liked; never again will I neglect to make a recommendation, since others have been so kind to me, with their detailed, humorous, apposite 4*and 5* reviews… (and the odd few 1*: well, maybe it just wasn’t for them. “Crime” was the wrong category to place it in, perhaps, for those who like their psychopaths by the paragraph.)
September was an extraordinary month on promotion when I reached the top 50 in the UK and spent four days at no 1 in Australian Literary Fiction. To be a “hot new release” at my age was as gratifying as it was unexpected. As I overtook Harper Lee and William Boyd and even briefly shunted The Girl on the Train into a siding (of course she’s well back on track now), I began to wonder if I need still describe myself as a teacher. And even now, sales continue to trickle in steadily, at four and even eight times the promotional price.
I have only admiration for teachers, myself included, but I’m reaching burn out. I have taught hundreds, probably thousands of children to read and, more importantly, to enjoy it. I’ve shown them ways to appreciate books and stories and information and drama, and I’ve made them want to continue to educate themselves. I have introduced children and adults to the world that opens up when you use another language. I have designed curricula and published resources and trained colleagues, and I have a record mostly to be proud of, though I will pass more quickly over detentions given and dull, Government dictated digraphs and documents. No doubt some of my classes were meaningless or boring to some of the students some of the time.
I still teach part time, and I hope that I shall always sing. But now, I am a writer.