My latest date is with a former head teacher who has written children’s stories, a young adult novel, poems, and short stories for adults. She is a resident of Cheshire and a member of her local writers’ group. I began by asking her to tell me about the town and its environs.
“I taught in Nantwich and Delamere in Cheshire and have lived in this area for twenty five years. It is a beautiful place to live. There are lots of amazing places to visit; lakes, castles, canals and cities such as Manchester and Liverpool, not to mention Chester. The people here are so friendly and the children I taught were great fun. Originally though I came from Kent, which is also a lovely part of the country. I visit often because I still have family there.”
She loves writing poetry and goes to a monthly class with John Lindley, who is a former Cheshire Poet Laureate.
“He sets interesting tasks and gives us examples and then we share our efforts as a group. I have two poetry books out and a third one is on the way. The new book will be called, ‘The Shadows of Love’. It explores all the different forms of love, including some of the negative implications.
I enjoy doing all forms of writing and I usually have about three or four projects on the go at once. Then I swap from one to the other.”
She considers that her teaching experience is not always of help with her writing for children:
“In some ways it is but in other ways it’s a hindrance. It helps in that I have a good knowledge about what children can appreciate at specific ages, which is good. As a teacher you have to be careful to always have a formal attitude to children but children enjoy snotty and slapstick jokes, which
I often find difficult to do. What has helped me with writing for children is that each of my books so far has been written for one of my grandchildren. Writing for a specific audience works well. Although the books are complete fiction I’ve included something relevant to each grandchild.”
Her creativity does not stop at writing:
“I have studied fine art at what was Mid-Cheshire College. It was a brilliant place to study. I wasn’t too good at ceramics, but I loved textiles, all forms of painting and graphics. I enjoy portraits and figurative drawing and painting the most, but I’ve painted landscapes, seascapes, flowers and still life. At the moment I’m studying with the Open College of Arts. I’m very committed to my art projects and find they often contribute to or enhance my writing. Art like writing takes me to another place.
I play the piano only for my own pleasure. I never perform for others. I particularly like the music of the 1970s and some classical music, but I’ll play anything as long as there’s an easy version. It’s very relaxing to play, though perhaps not to listen to.”
Her Author page on Amazon tells us she also plays ukulele. Intrigued, I wanted to know more about that.
“The ukulele has taken a bit of a back seat lately. It’s a great instrument being portable and easy to learn to play. I’m more interested in finger style playing than strumming, but I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to play music as an inexpensive and enjoyable first step. It should be brought in to primary schools.
Playing music makes people happier and in this stressful world we should help our children find ways to relax and communicate.”
She likes being independently published because it gives her complete control of the process, except publicity.
“For Desdemona: the dragon without any friends, I drew all the pictures and designed the front cover as well as writing the story. A friend of mine was picked up by a traditional publisher and her cover was produced by them. It wasn’t consistent with the story. That would have really annoyed me.”
She has worked in the past, on a voluntary basis, for a website exclusively for women writers. With all women short lists for parliamentary candidates being in the news recently in England I donned my ‘devil’s advocate’ hat and asked if she thinks women creatives and politicians need the protection of an exclusive space. It provoked a long and passionate response.
“You’ve reminded me to update my website. Thank you. I started working for All Things Girl because a friend introduced me to it. It was a great magazine to work for, encouraging new writers and getting their work published online. Due to time commitments I don’t work or contribute to the Modern Creative Life, but wish them all well. I liked All Things Girl in spite of the fact that it was all female. They wanted to promote women’s writing because women had a harder time getting published in the US. I’m not sure if that’s still the case.
I do think that men and women read and write differently. If I buy a magazine to read, it will probably be a woman’s magazine. They do of course have stories written by men but they’re probably gentler stories. All of the novelists I’ve chosen below are women. I didn’t think about gender when I chose them. Obviously I do like some male authors and probably most of the artists I like are male. I’m not a fan of erotica or extreme horror, which perhaps appeal more to the male reader, however when we make generalisations like this there will always be lots of exceptions.
I think we need more women in parliament as I think it is still unfairly weighted towards men but I strongly disagree with all female shortlists.
What we need is people who are up to the job and I would suggest that many who are in post are not good enough. In the recent UK referendum both pro and anti Brexit MPs lied to the British Public and we knew we weren’t being told the truth. Why should we be led by such incompetence and dishonesty?
We should stop worrying about who is sleeping with who (I really don’t care) and sack all MPs who are caught out in policy lies. I think women tend to lead in a different way than men and we need both in parliament, but it should roughly reflect the community that it represents and we have a long way to go to achieve that.
I believe the way to increase the number of women MPs and leaders is to broaden our concept of what makes a good leader so that it recognises female personality traits more. As a head teacher I always tried to take all of my staff with me when I wanted to make changes. This required listening carefully to their concerns and what problems they thought might arise. Sometimes this made me amend or tweak my ideas. At the end of the day I was still responsible for the children and staff and would have to make a decision, but because the staff were involved and listened to, they had a commitment to making the change work.
I must be clear though that I am not saying women are better than men at being leaders, just they may approach leadership differently and at the moment some of their good qualities are not appreciated. Some of the women MP at the moment are so tough they make me wince.”
She has an office in the house and a writing shed in the garden . . .
“. . . but I write anywhere. The office in my home is very untidy as all my art is stacked up in there. The one in the garden is neat and tidy. I love to work there on a warm day with the doors wide open. I write on the laptop most of the time and I write at any time of the day. Life is busy so I grab time when I can. I book a night or two away occasionally, so I can have a concentrated time to write.”
Asked about her favourite writers and what she would hope to learn were she fortunate enough to meet them she tells me:
“I’m lucky enough to have met John Lindley, Jo Bell and Alison Chisholm, all excellent poets. They’ve taught me how to take the ‘usual’ and look at it from an unusual angle. Regarding novels I’ve always been a fan of P.D.James, Elizabeth George, J.K. Rowling and Trudi Canavan. P.D.James had expertise in forensics, which would be interesting to know about. With the other writers I’d be interested to know how they manage to be so prolific and how they keep track of their complex plots and numerous characters.”
Responding to my final question, she would have loved to have been able to reveal something that “would make me look mysterious and interesting,” as if what we have already discovered has not achieved that.
“But I’m a very ordinary person. I didn’t really discover how much I enjoy doing creative things until I retired, but when I was clearing out all my teaching papers I found poems written inside covers, in diaries and on scraps of paper all over the place. I often wrote stories for individual classes although I’m not sure where they went. I even wrote a Christmas play once!”