My entire life can be described in one sentence... "well, that didn't go as planned." This has been an echo throughout my life. Just when I think everything is falling into place, I can almost guarantee that something will come along and turn my world upside down. It hasn't just happened once. The one theme throughout is that in one shape or form I will write my way through it. It is one of my coping mechanisms as is reading. The writing allows me to explore the emotions involved and soothe a fractured mind.
|The back page of my |
From a small child, I have found solace in writing and reading. This photo is of the book of powems [sic] I wrote for my number 2 sister (yes, we are sometimes known by our numbers because there a few of us) when I was five maybe six and she was leaving home to go and study to be a nurse. I was going to miss her terribly and I wanted to make sure she wouldn’t forget me. The answer in my mind even then…write her a book then you will always be with her.
Whenever things got difficult throughout my teenage years. I would lose myself in books or I'd write the predictable heartfelt and fraught poems and, in my case and perhaps randomly, articles. I believe I even considered entering the Vogue young writers' competition. I can't remember whether I actually did, but I know I certainly thought about it and was convinced I would win. Having said that, I was convinced I would win the pony in the WH Smith competition every year (you'd never get away with that now!). I never did! I do also remember a time when in the second year (year 8) my English teacher read out a piece of my descriptive writing to the class. Having finished it, she looked across to me and said, 'You know Vanessa, you really can write. That was beautiful. Maybe you will be a writer one day.' There was a lot of smirking in the class as I was bullied mercilessly at the school, but for that moment I glowed. I can't for the life of me remember the name of that teacher as I have blocked a lot of memories of that school for obvious reasons. I can see her face though. I doubt she is still alive, but I wish I could tell her that I did make it eventually. Writing was a big part of my teenage years as was reading
|One of my early notebooks|
|Giving myself a feed|
The PEG however allowed me to start a new life. To become a new person. I decided to make use of the writing that I’ve always played with. I signed up to the University of Winchester to do a degree in English because at that time the degree had modules in Creative Writing (there was no single honours degree in Creative Writing at that stage). Little did I know I was about to change my life completely. I had a chance to try on lots of different voices that included writing for children. Something I’d never thought about before and the rest, as they say, is history…I took an MA in Writing for Children, a PhD, became a lecturer and my debut novel Flight was published in 2018 by Firefly in the UK and by Feiwell and Friends in the US in 2021. Firefly will be publishing the sequel, Safe, in 2022. Writing my way through has helped me in so many ways.
I still do it, when I ended up on crutches because of joint issues, for example. Or when I cut back my hours in order to focus on my writing and build up my school visits just as the pandemic hit - perfect timing Vanessa! I will always write my way through stress and fear. I know if I don't write it has an impact on my mental health. I have learnt that now. I have an understanding.
|Me, my crutches, and my crazy family at the launch of Flight.|
I do my best not to let disability define me or stop me
Writing can be therapeutic, as can reading be. I have recently read an article about how reading to children in ICU can increase their production of oxytocin, which has an impact on their pain and can reduce it. It also reduces their stress levels. The writers of the article saw parents as a cost-effective intervention as they could read the stories to their own children. I am also a great believer that a book will find you just at the time you need it. It may be a little cliched, but Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist appeared in my life at a time when I needed it. The same with Matt Haig's Reasons to Stay Alive, which arrived at a moment when both myself and various people close to me were having issues with mental health. Yes, I know, the pragmatic part of my brain says, it is because you notice the write-ups of certain books when you need them. The romantic part does say they find you. Believe whatever you want to believe. The choice is yours. Writing and reading are so powerful. They will always be my salvation.