My third novel, currently titled The Song, is, for the most part, set in the sixties. This is a little different from writing about the 18th century, about which I knew almost nothing before I started The Legacy. I was indeed alive in the sixties, albeit that I was very young. I’ve always wondered what it was like to be a young woman at that time – did it feel like there was a revolution happening, especially but not exclusively affecting women’s lives? My mother would probably say not. She was a young woman back then but she was already a mother of three living in a small Suffolk village. She had very little contact with other women, and certainly none with the ‘swinging’ part of the sixties. Her life did not include dancing the night away to The Beatles, or beehive hairdos, or even much in the way of miniskirts.
Given that, it’s clear that there are many different stories to be told about that era. Not all of them are exciting, and life for many was not one long summer of pop music, dancing and free love. All the same, I’m still fascinated by the sixties. I loved the music then and I love it now. Not so much the fashion, though!
The fun of writing The Song is in the contrast between then and now. No computers, not even phones in many homes (we didn’t have one until the 80s), not much in the way of central heating – certainly not for the working-class people I’m writing about – and far fewer cars, to name but a few. It does help that I remember those times myself, even though it’s a child’s eye view. If you’re in your twenties now (as is my main character in the book) then the sixties would be a very foreign land – and that’s why it’s so great to write.
An old friend asked me yesterday whether, given my current shaky financial situation, I regret giving up work. Should I, as advised by myriad writing gurus, have kept my day job and written in my spare time?
The answer is no, because I wasn’t writing in my spare time. I was plagued by work stress that sucked the life out of me. I was depressed, miserable, and despite a constant longing to write and the sense I’d had all my life that I was born to write, I was not doing so in any more than the occasional, short-lived spurt.
I didn’t have any money behind me, or a partner to support me through the process, but I felt that I had to take action to achieve my life’s ambition. I eventually took a lump sum out of an old work pension and got to work on The Legacy. It was a revelation to find that I had been right. I immersed myself in research and writing and the word count began to grow. I had always feared that I couldn’t finish a book, as all my earlier work had stuttered to a halt when I’d lost interest after about 30,000 words.
I think, more than anything, reaching that final 100,000 words was the biggest achievement for me. I had actually written a book! I could do it. I could finish a project. It took a lot longer to find a publisher than it had taken to write the book, and of course it was a wonderful moment to receive the e-mail from Snowbooks saying they wanted to publish, but the greatest achievement was just finishing the novel.
Now I’ve finished my second novel and am working on my third and I don’t regret anything I’ve done. I haven’t made any money to speak of yet, and I certainly hope that changes very soon, but even so, I’m not sitting hunched over my computer screen at work wishing I was writing any more; instead I’m sitting hunched over my laptop thinking up my next piece of dialogue, and that is just where I want to be.