In 1979, when I was eight years old I wrote to “Jim’ll Fix It” to ask if it would be possible to make my dream come true and lock me in a book shop late at night when everyone else had gone home. Now, for anyone under the age of 25 “Jim’ll Fix It” was a television show hosted by Jimmy Saville - a man who made the dreams of thousands of children come true every Saturday teatime. Sadly, my letter was never answered and I didn’t get my “Jim Fixed It For Me” shiny medallion to show off at school.
Fast forward thirty years… I am standing alone in Waterstone’s book shop on George Street at the end of the launch party for my debut novel Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket. All is quiet, the lights are dim and it’s just me surrounded by row upon row of books. It wasn’t quite how I imagined the scene when I penned my letter to Sir Jimmy but it was as close as I could imagine to perfection.
August 13th 2009 was without a doubt the best night of my life. It’s not every day you get to have all your friends and family in the same room celebrating something as amazing as the publication of your first book! I signed so many copies of Bree McCready that by the end of the night my signature had gone from the usual legible loops to a sloping, spidery scrawl. My cheeks hurt from smiling and my mouth was as dry as an astronaut’s slipper. But I was floating around on cloud nine and nothing was going to get me off!
It’s taken me quite some time to get to this point you see, so it really is quite a big deal. When I was younger and I was asked that question - “What do you want to be when you grow up?“ I always had the same answer. A writer. However, having been brought up in a family that valued the old-fashioned work ethic, writing was never encouraged as a career. I was told repeatedly that only the very best get to earn a living doing something they actually enjoy! At school I was complimented for my colourful imagination (or scolded for my daydreaming!) but on the whole my talent seemed to go unnoticed. Despite this I always knew I had a novel in me somewhere.
When I did eventually “grow up” my love of writing never left me. I tried my best to bring my passion for words into my work as a nursery nurse. Literacy levels in the area where I worked were unbelievably low and I found this depressing. I very much wanted the children in my care to have a tool that might help them cope with the more difficult aspects of their lives - to broaden their horizons and to make them aware that there was more out there for them. I desperately hoped that it might be possible for them to make their own escapes with the sweep of a pen.
All my life (much like Bree, the heroine in my novel) I seem to have been searching for something to fill a void in my life. I thought I might have found what I was looking for when I embarked upon my degree in Community Education in 2000. Working with illiterate adults made me all the more appreciative of my gift and more determined than ever to use it in a positive way. During a particularly challenging time in 2006, when I found myself thrust into the unexpected world of single parenthood, writing seemed to organise the chaos in my life and helped to make me feel whole again. Suddenly I was grabbing every spare second I had to scribble down a few paragraphs here and there. I took to carrying a notebook with me for those flashes of inspiration that inevitably occurred in the oddest and most inconvenient places. I began to take my writing seriously and within two years I had a manuscript that was worthy of sending to publishers. It was certainly far from easy getting accepted. I have a head full of grey hairs and a drawer full of rejection letters to prove that! But I would never have given up on my dream. No matter how often I doubted myself I never stopped believing in my book.
I have never been motivated by the thought of fame and fortune and quite honestly I don’t expect it. I am just delighted to see my story in print. It gives me such a thrill to think that young people are reading my book and perhaps escaping some difficult times by immersing themselves in Bree’s story. My greatest pleasure comes from thinking that some may even feel inspired to write down their own thoughts and feelings as a result of reading my work. As a deep-thinking and misunderstood youngster I was always on the lookout for books that contained real characters, ones that I could identify with and who had a story that struck a chord in me. I remember falling in love with Holden Caulfield as I read The Catcher in the Rye. Completely immersed in the story about the young boy who was so achingly familiar to me I drank in the beauty and intensity of the words and basked in the knowledge that somebody understood me at last. Right from the beginning I really wanted Bree to have that affect on her readers.
I would greatly love for my book to transcend its categorisation as a children’s book and appeal to the adult imagination too. I feel passionately about the need to bring back storytelling at home and I am forever striving to encourage this dying activity throughout my work with children and parents. It took me until I reached the age of 34 to even consider trying to write the novel that I knew was inside me from an early age. This has been a most important journey, pursuing the one thing that has always mattered to me. On that humid Thursday evening, as I stood in the deserted Waterstone’s book store I had the chance to reflect upon the journey that has brought me to this point in my life. A shiver ran up my spine as I imagined my dog-eared, yellowing letter still lying, unread under a pile of thousands more like it in the archive boxes at the BBC. And it occurred to me in that moment that some dreams are worth waiting for…
Launch photographs: Caroline Harvey.
Next week Scottish Book Trust & EIBF's Outreach Tour begins! Keep an eye on the website for photographs, blogs and more!