What I Am
A writer. A reader. A story teller. A shape shifter.
Man, like a glass ball with a spark a-top
Out of the magic fire that lurks inside,
Shows one tint at a time to take the eye
Robert Browning, Ring and the Book, Book 1, 1367-9
One tint at a time. Writers, like their characters, are not the same all the time. They change with time, place, the company they find themselves in. Also their finances. To say nothing of hormones. Or when the wind is in the nor’ nor’ east.
I am proud of my Sophie Weston canon. I enjoy writing them. But sometimes the wind changes and I find myself in a new place. Then I write differently.
Where I Am
Standing still and slightly stunned, to be honest, having been inspired to write To Marry a Prince in six weeks, from starting block to finishing line. I didn’t see that one coming.
So now my imagination is taking me back to a girl who has been in my head for a while. She has a hideously low embarrassment threshold. And encounters reality TV, the tango and a sexy academic with the hide of a rhinoceros and the confidence of God all in one appalling project. Will she? Won’t she? Join the dance? Or stamp out, shaking the dust of TV Central from her six inch heels for ever? Um– not sure yet.
How I got here
I always wrote stories: gallant Roundheads and upright Puritans; highwaymen-with-a-conscience; great and lonely kings; elusive freedom fighters, harrying invaders; Beauty and the Beast.
The first book I finished properly as a grown up was an eighteenth century romp, written for a friend who was ill. We were both pretty miserable at the time. I wrote it in chunks, so she took a new episode with her every time she went into hopsital for treatment. It was called The Moving Toyshop and we thought it was hilarious. I wrote more but I knew they were not a patch on Georgette Heyer and I wanted them to be. At various times I produced a modern Scarlet Pimpernel, a ghost story, a whydunnit, romantic suspense; an alien traveller who isn’t what he seems; fantasy, science fiction, historical…
I realized pretty soon that I wasn’t going to earn a living at writing, so I started to do other things as well: selling baked beans; English Editor at the Brazilian Embassy for a while (their English was as good as mine, 99% of the time, so I dogsbodied); university library assistant (there were terrific perks – we had collections on magic, mediumship and HG Wells, which I’d never have read otherwise); waitress, barista, hospital gopher. I was even a starving writer for a while, living on an Irish cliff in an old schoolhouse without running water (you left a bucket under the spring).
And then came the big, serious jobs that absorbed me: bank regulator, consultant to the IMF and World Bank in all sorts of countries, member of the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission.
But if you write, you write. Even when, as sometimes happened, I was so busy I was leaving work at midnight. Mind you, I was not alone. My most distinguished predecessor in the art of running a double life is probably Anthony Trollope. He was a busy and committed post office official at the same time as he wrote his greatest novels. He was actually re-organising the postal service in south west England when he got the idea for The Warden – in Salisbury for the day job, he wandered into the Cathedral Close.
I wrote a lot and discarded a lot. But there are some characters, some stories, which won’t let go. Their voices get louder and they won’t be discarded. So here I am, in Another Part of the Forest, on a path I do not know. It’s exciting.