I’m not a big believer in people changing, I haven’t seen much change in myself (I’m a little wiser – but only a little) over the last few years. That means I’m still a cynical, cantankerous, sarcastic soul who’s too clever for their own good.
However one thing that hasn’t changed is a good thing. That’s the ongoing respect I have for my mum (cue accusations of “mummy’s boy”). She’s been an enormous help to me throughout my life – even when I haven’t deserved it at all. I haven’t seen her in nearly 3 years either – all the time I’ve been in China and a bit more.
So that’s why I’m really pleased to tell the world that this week she kicked my writing backside. A little background on this, she left school when she was very young and without a single qualification to her name. She’s not stupid but her convent education did everything it could to convince her she was.
She went to work for a big (and now forgotten) company as a secretary where she met my old man (can’t win ’em all mum) and in the fullness of time they got married and had two sons. She then retired gracefully from work and dedicated her best years to raising me and my brother (surprisingly she still hasn’t said that she wished she’d drowned us in a bucket and done something useful instead).
When I was about 14 (give or take), I found something hidden away in a desk drawer at home. It was a manuscript for a novel, a little time-worn and battered and without any indication of who had written it. Being a reading addict, it seemed appropriate for me to drag out the book and have a read. It was good, really good – so off I went to find out about it. “Mum, who the hell wrote this book?” (I don’t know if these were my exact words but they certainly sound like me.)
She had – many years before, in fact she’d written a book and several short stories but something had discouraged her and she’d put them away and given up on the idea of writing. I’ve got to be honest I was appalled at this – people who know me will tell you that I only give praise when I think it’s earned. And whilst romance novels aren’t my usual genre – this was a damn good one. So I bullied her into starting again. A lot of bullying over the next few years would ensue – while she achieved some amazing results that kept dragging her to the edge of but not quite into publication.
She had a sci-fi short story accepted by a magazine which couldn’t then fit it into its roster. She went to her first ever writer’s convention and got accepted by an agent on the spot. (This was down to a little bit of good fortune when the agent ran out of time in a class she was in and offered to compensate her for failing to read her synopsis – by taking some sample chapters and giving feedback on those too the following day). Sadly her book didn’t make it to publication, publishers loved it but all felt it wasn’t genre specific enough to place in their own catalogues. (Fools – the whole industry would change a couple of years later thanks to publishers that took precisely these risks, but too late for the book my mum had written).
She didn’t give up though, she went to an access course in Basingstoke and in a year was one of Hampshire’s top performers – and that paved the way to heading to John Moore’s University to read Creative Writing, where she duly grabbed herself a first class honours degree. If that wasn’t enough she then topped it off with a Masters at Lancaster University. She continued to write through this period and wrote two more excellent novels, sadly neither of these was picked up either.
With her confidence dented she took up teaching English instead and earned her Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) part-time whilst working full-time. After finishing this qualification she began to take on some work for a publishing house that her friend works at, and it was her friend who pushed her to start writing again (well done – Maria).
This week it all paid off for my mum, her book “Mistletoe – The Loneliest Mouse” a beautiful children’s tale was picked up by the same publisher. She got a top tier contract which includes marketing support (a big result as most titles get none). So I’d like to say – well done mum! Now start writing more.
Yes, it’s much better than my stuff even on my good days. It feels like the real deal, polished, professional, readable and enjoyable. But in this one instance I’m not jealous, I’m really pleased for someone who’s worked so hard for success to get it, and I’m even more pleased that it’s my mum.
P.S. It will take around 3-6 months before it goes into print, that’s the way of publishing so I won’t be pushing links for it today – but I will be the day it’s available to buy. There will be absolutely no apologies for this shameless plug at that time.
A final interesting fact is that the whole family has now been published – my ghost written tome is due to come out early next month (e-book only), my father self-published his own walking guide to Winchester, and my brother was a press officer for a major British institution and has been published all over the national press. The strangest thing is that it’s taken the best writer among us, the longest time to get there.