Never ever give up!

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This is Lesley. Lesley and I were introduced about five years ago by a mutual friend when we were both aspiring writers and now – well the picture says it all – now Lesley IS a published author and I couldn’t be more delighted, or proud because I know what it’s taken to get there. We met for lunch recently and here is a little of her story, so far.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve always been writing about something, but I properly started about thirteen years ago. Biddy started as a short story I began while part of a creative writing class at The Heritage Centre in Bangor, County Down. I always wanted to write a novel but I never had the courage or the confidence until I started that class. It made me realise I could write.

How did you find your Agent?

I signed with The Feldstein Agency in 2007 when I had the first draft of Biddy almost complete. I used the Creative Writer’s Handbook  to send my first chapters to several agents. I made the classic mistake of sending the manuscript off before I had it finished so when they asked to read the whole thing I had to finish it over a weekend! But I already knew the ending so it wasn’t so bad, but I wouldn’t recommend this approach!

How soon after did you get an offer of publication?

I got an offer from a publisher in August 2008 – it was amazing I was so happy! But then that fell through one month later. It was awful. I was devastated – I felt like I’d been jilted at the altar.  I stopped writing for two years after that. I was dealing with some personal and family issues at the time too and I suppose I lost my voice for a while. I gradually started again and joined the Creative Writers Group at Queens University and began tinkering with the manuscript. I did a major re-write and re-structure of it, but nothing happened. So I put it away and began on book two.  Unbeknownst to me my agent began re-submitting again to Publishers. And then came the golden moment when Twenty7books (a Bonnier Zaffre Imprint)  picked it up in February 2014.

What is your best advise for aspiring writers?

Read, read, read! When I read a good book it inspires me, it’s also important to know your genre, know your market. And never, ever give up. I know it’s a cliche but it’s true. If I had, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. And I write anywhere, any day, anytime. I don’t have a routine I just write whenever I can.

What’s been the most surprising thing about becoming a published author?

Well, obviously seeing my book on a shelf beside J.K.Rowling is thrilling… but all of it has been wonderful. I thought I knew what it would be like, I’d imagined it so many times, but I didn’t.  I still can’t believe people are reading reading MY book. I’m humbled and overwhelmed but the response it’s got on twitter and that actual strangers – not family, not friends – but strangers are reading it and liking it. It feels amazing.

‘The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir’ is available at all good bookshops.

You can find out more about Lesley on her Facebook page LesleyAllenAuthor.

So there you have it, whatever your dreams keep on going – they do come true! I have a couple of short stories of my own I’m looking froward to sharing in the coming weeks. In the meantime enjoy the Christmas madness. Our friend ‘Elfie’ is back for the craic and I’m so looking forward to enjoying our first Christmas in our new home.

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Eight weeks later.

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Hello again. Apologies for my absence, though maybe you didn’t notice I’d been away? A LOT has happened in the intervening eight weeks since my last post. I’ve had the highest highs and a pretty ugly low – but that’s life – right? Most importantly I’ve turned a decade. I’m writing to you from way over here on the other side of the chasm of thirty-nine – can you still hear me? Joking aside, do you know what? It’s not so bad, not so bad at all. (Though admittedly it is early days!)

Autumn has left us (what a fabulous Autumn it was!) and winter feels like it’s well and truly here. Anyone else just want to drink wine and eat chocolate? I feel so blessed to be warm and cosy in our new forever home. I’m getting myself back into the routine of writing again after all the upheaval of our house move and it feels really good to be back at my laptop. I promise not to be so tardy in the future. I’ve got assignments for Uni and I want to put the finishing touches to my second novel ready to submit to my agent in the New Year: no more procrastinating!  Next week I have a treat for you cause I’m going to be interviewing a real-life friend that has become a real-life published author. So exciting! @Lesley_Allen_ is proof that publishing dreams do indeed come true and I’m going to ask her all about it and then tell you. (Also her book is a heart-breakingly good read) ‘The Lonely Life Of Biddy Weir’ is available at all good book shops. Have a read and let me know if you have any specific questions you want me to ask.

In the meantime I’m going to try and live up to this ‘Be the person your dog thinks you are.’ A fab birthday present that will take pride of place on my study wall (once I get moved in!) And if you know my dog (s) that’s a tall order!!

 

 

Autumn; you’re the best!

 

October already! But this year the winter doesn’t scare me.

Autumn is one of my favourite times of the year – the weather is nearly always guaranteed to be better than in summer, long afternoons spent blackberry picking are obligatory and halloween parties are always the best! Plus, three birthdays and our wedding anniversary means it’s celebration season for us!

The smell of winter is in the air – it’s in the coolness that comes from the low slung sun and in the shortening of the days, but it’s not here yet, and it makes me want to squeeze every last bit of goodness out of Autumn.

My Mum used to throw the BEST halloween birthday parties for me. They had (and still do) a legendary status among my class mates. We had fancy dress (of course), bonfires, custard-pie fights (I know!) dunking for apples, spooky walks (thanks Uncle Davy) and copious other activities that, today, would involve local councils (and not in a good way)! Like I say, LEGENDARY.

In my opinion you can’t beat the golden hue of an autumn day. The whisper of winter in the air and the litter of leaves on the ground never fail to take me back to being heavily pregnant with our first son: the nervous uncertainty of first-time motherhood, the heaviness of pregnancy, the waiting. My belly round and taught, ripe like a conker. That it was almost ten years ago has not dulled my memory of it. It’s sensory. My body will never let me forget what I experienced at this time of year. For that reason autumn is special for me. A time to pause for reflection and remember our ultimate new beginning –  when we became parents. So it’s fitting that this autumn, ten years after our son was born, we have another new chapter to celebrate. In a few weeks we will move in to our new home – a project that has taken over two years to complete. We hope, it will be our family home for the rest of our lives. It will be the stage where we will act out our own unique family drama. The safe haven where my boys will become teenagers and eventually men. Where girlfriends, and hopefully one day wives, will be introduced. Where my husband and I will grow older, where we will sing and dance, laugh, and no doubt cry. It will be the backdrop for everything, a member of the cast. And I love the synchronicity that the curtains will be raised in autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

Going back to go forward.

 

I’ve big news. I’m going back to University. As of yesterday I’m a fully registered and enrolled student, again! In July I got accepted to study for my MA in Creative Writing at Queens University Belfast. Fair to say that I am excited and terrified in equal measure – What if I’m the oldest in the class by decades? How will I juggle it with motherhood? What if everyone laughs at what I write, or what I’ve got to say? What if I’m not good enough? All these questions, and more, have been whizzing about my head and feeding my internal monologue. And yesterday they were joined by a healthy dose of ‘What the F***k am I doing?’ Everyone was so, so young. I’m not in the habit of hanging around with folk barely out of their teens. I’m either with little folk who still need help wiping their arse, or people with faces like my own; faces with creases, faces with stories to tell. NOT faces that look so… new. And here’s the other thing; they are all so sure of themselves, they seem to know exactly where they’re heading, they already know their place in the world. It was terrifying. Borderline traumatic. Where have the past twenty years gone? Surely there must be a mistake? I felt completely out of place. Unlike my self-assured compatriots, panic and fear seeped through my system.

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I gathered myself over a coffee (though I felt more in need of gin) and I stopped judging. I stopped presuming that everyone was looking at me with pity thinking I was a sad old woman still in pursuit of her dreams at almost forty! I thought of myself at nineteen or twenty years old. I thought about the things I would do differently, if I had my time again. I thought about what my nineteen year old self would make of my thirty-nine year old self. I thought about what I might say to her, if I had the chance. Because I remembered that once upon a time, I too, was a confident young woman who thought she knew her place in the world, who thought she knew what she clearly didn’t. I was that girl. And even though, she has all the benefits of youth on her side, the woman I am today would not swap with her. As the Dixie Chicks say, ‘I’ve gone the long way around’. Maybe not everything in my professional life is how I might have envisaged when I was a nineteen year old university student, but it’s only when you get older that you realise not everything in life goes quite to plan. I feel lucky and blessed to be healthy, to have a happy marriage and two wonderful sons. I guess all those fresh-faced students will have to live a bit longer to appreciate just how precious the simple things are. To realise that sometimes you have to go back, in order to move forwards.

Classes start next week. Please God don’t let the lecturers be young enough to be my off-spring!

Life at 39 and 3/4

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Apologies for being MIA but I’m using every spare minute I etch away from ‘mum camp’ on revising the latest of my book edits. But I have to post this one quick or else the 39 and 3/4 will cease to apply! So, for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learnt as I exit my thirties:

 

 

  • Even though the calendar tells me I’m about to turn forty I feel exactly the same as I did at twenty. No one tells you that the ‘older’ outstrips the ‘wiser’ like dog versus human years! I’d say I’m only incrementally wiser than I was twenty years ago.
  • Nothing worth doing is ever easy. Yup, it’s true. Life, marriage, work, children – individually they’re hard, combine them, and you’ve got a lifetime of sweat and toil right there. None of them are easy, but they are worth it.
  • With every crisis comes opportunity. Granted it’s not want you want to hear while in the middle of a crisis, but it’s true.
  • Love endures, it just does – always. If you want to find love, you will, even in the most unlikely of places.
  • More things scare me now. A lot more. But only by doing the things that scare me, can I grow.
  • Each day is precious – appreciate each ordinary damn day – even the grey and rainy ones! This is so difficult to do. It’s what I know, it’s what I’ve learnt since being thirty, but I’m still struggling to practice it.
  • Find a good colourist. You’ll be seeing a lot of her.
  • Be the best version of yourself. That’s all you can do and it’s enough. Surround yourself with people who think it’s enough.
  • Marry someone older – it’s a guaranteed way to always feel young.
  • Persistance is more important than talent. I’m still hoping this one is true and that I can achieve my publishing goal in my forties.
  • Quality over quantity.
  • Look after yourself, no one else will do it for you. Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, make time for the things you love.
  • The decade between thirty and forty goes really, really fast! Enjoy it.
  • This too shall pass. Bad times don’t last, but neither do good. Hold on tight,  rejoice in the journey and appreciate every damn day – even the crappy ones.

In other news, I’m learning how to increase my ‘GRIT’ and will pass it on in a post soon. We’ve our summer holiday still ahead of us – it entails a small boat and five children  – what can possibly go wrong? I’ll see you on the other side.