When I was studying for my A’levels, I experienced my most profound lesson. I had been asked to write a poem about childhood for homework. I was babysitting our neighbour’s children at the time and sat in their cosy, original Tudor cottage, staring at the timber-framed walls struggling for inspiration. I was getting nowhere.
My new-found friendship with Jesus was rapidly growing, so I decided to ask him for help. Inspiration was instant. With his guidance I wrote a poem. My English teacher was so impressed with the result. She said it was very clever. She took it away with her and pondered over it for a long time and wanted to enter it into a National Poetry competition, but she never did. However, I was excited. I had learnt something very special. I asked for help and I got it. If I involved Jesus in the process of writing something unique, original and exciting happened. And so writing became more than just a passion and pleasure in my life but also an act of worship.
At University, while studying music I would ask God for the right words to write for people, especially when on trains. These became poems for people, written there and then, in that moment. My now husband, but then boyfriend, would ask me to write lyrics for songs as my way with words fascinated him. My poems didn’t make good songs, though! I have always been intrigued by the musicality of words and the rhythm of language. One might think this would be good for song writing, but for me it often got in the way. However, one of the music professors did discover my love for words and gave me my first creative paid written work – putting into poetry translations of Welsh songs.
The idea of writing novels and books for children and teenagers only came about when my own children were born. I can remember the room and pregnant position I was stood in as I realised I should have a go at writing for children. Ideas began with a story about two sheep, followed by one about a whale and a deer who travelled the world together (before Julia Donaldson had published ‘The Snail and the Whale’). Around the same time, I also wrote a story for very small children about ‘Little Bare Feet’ playing on the words bear and bare. Sadly I have lost them all, but they were the first seeds and my way of beginning to practice writing for children.
The idea of writing more substantial novels came about as my children grew and began reading longer books, themselves. It revived my childhood love of reading. I read to them and then scouted out and sampled good books for them to read. I had put aside the joy of reading fiction years previously because books can so easily become an obsession to me. Reading wasn’t easy to do with four small children under the age of five, anyway. But as they grew so did my time for reading and time to practice writing. In 2007, I began working on two novels – one set in rural Devon and the other an allegorical tale set in a fantasy world, based on a dream that I had. Both were aimed at early teen readers. One day, these will be completed.
My first book, Elin’s Air, meanwhile came about as the result of reading the Bloomsbury publication of Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2013. I was inspired and sat down to write something fresh and for a greater purpose. I asked for more inspiration. I wrote an opening few chapters before life took over and it was set aside. In 2014, I met the owners of Hillman Publishing. They were interested in what I had written and the journey began in earnest. As the story unfolded, I found I needed to get up early and write my daily quota of words, before the household woke. The first draft became words on a page but lacked the final chapter. Then there was another draft, and another, and another and so on – I forget now how many in total. I came to love and hate the process until I had to tell myself enough was enough and sign the manuscript over to the publishers. I realised that unless I let it go, I would forever be finding flaws, titivating and trying to improve it. I let it go. The process I had been through was a lesson in learning how to write a novel. It was a joy to actually complete something! Now, I can return back to those earlier manuscripts with more experience of, and respect for the process.
It has been a wonderful learning curve. I love words, especially for their musical and lyrical quality that can be used to convey atmosphere as well as tell a story. To write well seems to require a lot of wisdom. I am continually learning and I love the process. I have a lot more to learn.
Oh! And…thank goodness for editors. My understanding of grammar is instinctive and lacks technical theory of why, where and how. In fact, it’s a hazard to the editors world. A recent revelation of my school reports from when I was 6 include the sentence “she writes very well but sometimes gets her tenses confused.”