by Sheila Sturgeon
I wonder if any of my good friend Susanna’s readers remember the Jackanory writing competitions? Actually, I wonder if my good friend remembers them? These annual events may even have been before her time!
Jackanory was wonderful. A different story read over five days by a different celebrity – before there was really such a thing as celebrity – each week. And each year, we were all invited to send in our own masterpieces, in the form of stories and poems, judged across various age groups.
I was around 12 when I entered a poem, called ‘The Golden Ball’, written to describe a wondrous sunset spotted as my Mum, my brother, and I walked home from visiting family one evening. At the time, I wrote poetry a lot; my Mum still has a book that I did for her full of poems I had written from about the age of seven – beautifully handwritten incidentally! I loved to write, a love that I lost for many, many years after I rebelled against school, exams, authority, and everything associated with such things at the age of around 15; meaning that I left school with virtually no qualifications at the age of 16.
I partially rediscovered my lost love – and, if I am honest, my talent – as a mature undergraduate. I returned to study at the ripe old age of 29, with a three year old in tow, as a result of losing (actually giving up willingly, if I’m honest!) my marriage, my home, and my job. What else do you do in such circumstances but go to university!! I discovered that I love to study, and especially love to research and write, about almost anything!
My love of writing has continued into my professional life; I joined the voluntary sector and then the public sector, and carried on writing –bids for funding, project plans, reports, press releases – you name it, I write it!
Recently, and following a bout of depressive illness, I began to write down my thoughts and it became a form of therapy. I submitted an article to henpicked.net – and to my surprise and delight, they published it! Depression: fighting back is understandably biographical, yet it seems to have spoken to many people. I have had so much positive feedback from women all across the UK who have read it and found it useful.
This lead to three more articles Are you a people pleaser?, Go on… make someone’s day, and Seeing past the stereotype; all equally biographical and all getting more fabulous feedback. But more importantly, each article helped me to reacquaint myself with the joy of writing, just because I can, rather than because I must.
On something of a whim, I went to a creative writing workshop at our local museum and wrote my first poem for almost 40 years. And I loved it; what’s more, so did the other people at the workshop – and I believe that it is now on display in the museum next to the artifact it is written about.
The feedback and the enjoyment in writing has been good for my – dare I say it – soul! Certainly, it has been good for my somewhat delicate self-esteem and even for my relationship with my partner of almost a quarter of a century – because I’m enjoying something just for the sake of it once again.
So I decided to do something I’ve thought about nearly all my adult life and done absolutely nothing about. I have embarked upon the journey of writing my first novel. And how exciting to discover that my lovely nearly lifelong friend Susanna has the same ambition.
We are taking this journey separately, but knowing that the other is alongside, ready to hold our hand when needed with an encouraging word and the ever-so-essential hug (virtually sometimes, but a hug nevertheless!). All just as we did as students, many years ago. We are‘#amwriting’ together.
Oh, by the way, ‘The Golden Ball’ was one of 150,000 poems entered into the Jackanory story and poem competition that year. It reached the final 150 entries, and fell at the last hurdle; the final 100 got prizes! 12-year-old me tried to be excited by the letter I received, but actually, I was mostly disappointed not to get a prize! Now, of course, I can appreciate that I was ranked in the top 1% of entries– and this gives me more encouragement and inspiration.
In fact, I almost feel ready to say “I am a writer”. Watch this space!