An Ill Wind

I was happily running my book shop but began to suffer from debilitating headaches which were laying me low for two or three days each week. Diagnosed as ‘stress’ I was forced to sell the business and we decided that it would be a good idea to buy a cottage in the country. My husband was by this time well established in his small town solicitor’s practice, so I could take some time off and just be a mum. The ‘Good Life’ was on TV at the time, a comedy about a young couple trying out self-sufficiency, which seemed like a good idea. We bought a half derelict house high on the fells in the Lake District, together with one hectare of land, and doing it up would be a great stress-buster, then I'd write The novel.

However, when the snows came that first Christmas, the truth of my problems finally became clear. I had cervical spondylitis, a form of osteo-arthritis. Since I’d convinced myself that I had a brain tumour, this was great news. However, for several months I was overwhelmed by pain but then, slowly, I began to improve and while doing so, made an amazing discovery. Writing is the best therapy of all. It takes you out of yourself, above pain; a fact which remains true for me to this day. With the help of an electronic typewriter, (still no computer) and propped up by cushions, I was able to type despite a neck collar and one arm in a sling. I must have looked hilarious.

Osteo-arthritis is a condition, not an illness, and a strange one at that. I worked on my yoga, ate what I thought was the right food, took my fish oil tablets and various homeopathic remedies, although I couldn’t say which worked best, gradually I got better. I learned to ‘read’ my body, to know when it needed to rest, when to move and be active. On good days when I felt marvellous, euphoric even when the pain had subsided, I would feed my hens, look after our few sheep and their lambs, grow fruit and vegetables. I even planted a small wood and learned how to make jam. All great material for amusing articles, which I wrote on the wet days when confined to the house, of which there were plenty. The first success was a Cackle of Hens, which was how not to do it. Write about what you know, they say. I wrote about what I didn’t know about running a small-holding, ably assisted by my animal friends.

With my family at work and school, I wrote short stories, serials, a children’s novel, picture scripts, a couple of Mills & Boon contemporaries, and articles galore. The aim was to send them out faster than they were coming back. Unfortunately, my scatter-gun approach didn’t work very well, as most came winging back. Selling short articles was one thing, but I still hadn’t cracked fiction. Postman Pat would bring what he thought to be exciting stuff for me each day in his little red van, but were really big fat rejection parcels. I started taking courses, read everything I could about the art of writing, learned about market study.

I finally sold my first short story to D.C.Thompson. What a red letter day that was, also the name of the magazine, now defunct. Following this breakthrough I seemed to have discovered the knack, or I’d learned to target my markets more affectively, and I went on to sell several more short stories to My Weekly and People’s Friend, also several true confessions for My Story magazine.

Best of all I’d regained my confidence. I’d realised that you don’t have to be a genius to be published. I tried again for Mills & Boon, this time with a historical. Two more rejections came, both with sufficient editorial help to encourage me to keep trying. They accepted the third, Madeiran Legacy. (Now available on Amazon as an ebook) I was jubilant. With my first advance I bought a computer and went on to sell them four more of these.

I'd served a long apprenticeship but during it I’d learned how to build strongly motivated characters, how to structure a story, put emotion on the page and make every word count. But then my romances began to get longer, and more complex, and I knew it was time to move on. I tried my hand at a saga, but that didn't prove to be as easy as I'd expected either.

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