I´m glad the question isn´t "How did you start writing?" because writing has always been part of my life. As a young teenager, I would go to bed and make up stories where of course I was the main character. Later, I graduated with a B.A.., majoring in English, but that lead to a teaching career rather than a creative writing one. I was often asked to write articles for professional publications when teaching. I have always written journals especially when significant events are happening and I want to make sense of life.. Having lived in 7 of the 50 countries I´ve visited, there were often cultural and language changes I had to face. So how did I come to write and publish my first books?
The three certainties of life are: birth, taxes and death. So much preparation and celebrating goes into preparing for birth, so much avoidance into the second, as for the third, its existence is acknowledged by a funeral and writing a will., at least in the western world.
Because my husband and I had travelled extensively in the Middle East, and lived abroad, we had been introduced to a different perception of death. In any case our beliefs were to be tested, when my husband was diagnosed with cancer and told he had 9 months to live. Let´s say my life changed dramatically: I faced the loss of a husband, friend and lover, my future was non-existent and I became a 24 hour carer. With hindsight, I´d say my greatest lesson was "to let go of my beloved".
After my husband's death, I spent time grieving, moving on by travelling on my own, and finally settling in Quito, in the Andes Mountains. During my travels all over the world I met many individuals who were facing death- their own, their partner´s or a parent´s. They were desperate to talk about the human face of death - not the drier, psychological implications. But talking about death was not the done thing in the western world!
I had no such qualms.
In Buenos Aires, I was attending a tango and dinner show, and a Brazilian woman lawyer, who joined me at my table, showed me how she had no hair on her hands. This was her first outing since her last chemotherapy session. She talked about her process of finding meaning at this time in her life, The religion of her family had not helped her. When she turned to Buddhism with interest, her family drew away from her at a time when she needed their support. We spent a couple of hours over dinner discussing these death issues, with tango music in the background.
Similarly by coincidence, I met a young woman in Santiago, Chile who was trying to come to terms with her mother's death, and had been left by her brothers to clear out the mother's apartment. A chance meeting over street directions led to three hours of discussion of issues about death over coffee during the extended Independence Day celebrations. Many such "chance" meetings took place and I kept wondering whether I should share my experiences by writing a book. There should be no fears around the inevitable death that we all face. My lack of confidence about going public with this topic kept holding me back from writing a book.
My book, Moving from Grief in Cornwall, was born the day I decided to sit down one morning at 5am and start writing. I finished at 10am. The process was repeated every day for 5 days a week, for 6 weeks. It wasn´t a case of waiting for the mood or inspiration; it was a case of sitting down and writing. Only then did I address the next steps of the publishing process, editing and proofreading. Once my book was published, I felt I had honoured the death process.
I was then asked by readers to write a sequel, about the joys (and the frustrations!) of living in a foreign country, so this lead to writing and publishing my second book, South America Under the Skin of a Foreign Country.
The last year has been spent on writing my first novel, True to Herself, which is due to be published in March. Fiction is so different to writing nonfiction: three acts to the story, character arc and "Show, don´t tell", all appear on the learning curve.
But the most important clue is that first step, sitting and writing the book, longhand or on computer. Then, everything else falls into place.
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Photos of Penzance, Cornwall, the setting for my first book.