My mum used to buy me those old notebooks when I was a child. They were very simple and cheap, with wide lines and thin covers. There were tables and weights and measures printed on the back cover. I didn’t care that a furlong was equal to 220 yards: I just wanted to grab a biro, open the first blank page and start to scribble. Once I could write my name, I could try to write stories, poems, letters. Then I could invent tales of people in countries that I never dreamed of visiting, some that didn’t exist, and stories of times long ago. I loved the way an empty page could fill up with words and become an incredible world.
My imagination was fuelled by the many books I read as a child. I remember reading The Black Tulip when I was eight years old. I was whisked into a world of excitement and political intrigue. A wonderful teacher read The Wind in the Willows to the whole class in year four, and suddenly friendship was everything, animals could speak and, as I leaned against the warm radiator, I felt the real world slip into the safe but exciting one of a child’s unique imagination.
Books and teachers and, most importantly, my mum, inspired my scribble. When I was ten, my last school assembly was filled with my stories about lost villages, lonely ghosts and incredible far off lands. My head was crammed with it. I never stopped writing. There were too many ideas and they had to be written down and fill notebooks.
As a teenager, I wrote angsty poems, short stories, pantomimes, plays. Then I wrote experimental rubbish in French, Spanish, Old English. I remember as a teacher in the city, writing a serialised story for a class I taught about a lonely boy who desperately wanted to be a footballer. The students found it difficult to access the book they’d been assigned and it gave them an interest in reading. It was the bridge they needed; starting with where they were, it supported them to move to a new place where they’d never previously felt secure.
I wrote monologues, duologues, plays for students where they needed something that matched their interests or skills, and occasionally I wrote for myself. Then came a huge decision: I gave up teaching theatre and took a masters in writing.
People ask me if doing a masters is important to being a writer. There’s no simple answer, yes or no. Millions of brilliant writers thrive without one. But for me, learning is always a gift and an opportunity, and any course on a subject that inspires is so worthwhile. I loved it. The lecturers were great, the students fantastic. It was inspirational to immerse myself in writing for a whole year, and I wrote the beginning of my first novel there. I still haven’t finished learning, far from it.
I remember a wise lecturer telling the group that there was no easy journey to become a writer and we should expect to paper the walls with rejection slips. Against that background, I consider myself blessed to have found two of the best people in the industry, my agent Kiran and my editor, Sarah. The publishers I write for, Boldwood, are incredible; they are innovative, supportive, inclusive and they treat everyone who works with them like family. That’s a great place to develop a career.
I still write in notebooks, but now they are nice ones with hard backs. That’s not strictly true; I have soft backs too, ones with perforated tear-off sheets, scraps of paper, cardboard, anything I can write on when a thought grabs me. And I have my laptop, although my cat Colin thinks it’s his bed, and my other two cats, TC and Murphy, like to commandeer my writing chair and cushion.
This week, Boldwood Books told me I’d sold five hundred thousand copies of eight books. I’m too stunned to remember when I began to write for them – four years ago, less? I’m truly blown away. It’s a dream come true for me. I write woman’s fiction featuring many older characters, focusing on second chances, humour, friendship, love and community. I also write as Elena Collins now, dual timeline spooky tales, and I love being able to write in this genre so much. In the summer, my first cosy crime will be published. I can’t believe my luck.
I’m now discussing a new contract for future books. I’ve travelled a long way since my mum first gave me the notebook with tables on the back. And I couldn’t be happier, being a full-time writer. It’s a dream.
So thank you, to incredible editors, publishers, talented voice actors, kind reviewers, the supportive writing community. Thanks to my wonderful agent, to teachers, friends, family, all those people who’ve shared my journey in some way. And huge thanks to my mum, always, who’ll never know I had a single word published, but who would have been so thrilled.
And greatest thanks of all to readers; you are the reason every word is written. Without readers, a word on a page is invisible. I’m grateful to you beyond any words I can possibly write.
4 thoughts on “It started with a notebook…”
It will be fascinating to learn where your new contract is going to take you, you really are so adaptable and creative. I wonder what that young girl would think if she knew how her future in writing was going to turn out!
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I don’t think her mum would have been surprised. Thanks, Peter. More about the contract later…!
Aw, Judy, I absolutely loved reading this. You took me on every step of your journey right through to this incredible celebration. So thrilled for you and excited to see where the future takes you. Boldwood truly are the absolute best xx
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Thanks so much. Boldwood are just so brilliant and you’re an inspiration to us all. Sending love xx
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