From the age of five, I wanted to be a writer. Encouraged by my first teacher, I wrote stories about a girl called Jane, which all ended, rivetingly: ‘And then Jane was tired, so she went to bed.’
Teachers continued to spur me on. I wrote a novel in my late teens, then after university, turned to screenwriting. The dream now was of a table at the Oscars – who would I invite?
I worked in non-fiction publishing but dreamed of writing chilling fiction with real, vibrant characters. Pregnant with my first child, I decided to write about the fear of madness. The story was born of Sarah, pregnant and desperate to find out about the mother she doesn’t remember. Moving into the old family home she left as a child, she meets Uncle John, her only link to her family. But he says that her mother suffered hereditary madness and tried to kill her. Will Sarah go the same way? She must discover the truth before her baby is born…
Somehow, Hollywood never beckoned, and with two sons and a busy career, life got in the way of writing. Approaching 50, I had spent 30 years helping others to fulfil their writing dreams – what about mine? The baby I’d been hatching when I wrote about Sarah had gone to university. Was I never going to make a go of writing?
I got out that screenplay and rewrote it as a novel. The characters took on a life of their own and I was gripped again by the story. When I reached a dead end and had no idea if it was good or not, I sent it to a literary consultant, and with her brilliant advice, began rewriting.
Was this a good time to give up work to write? No! My husband was a humble classroom teacher after leaving the deputy head’s job that had made him ill. One son was still at university, costing us a fortune.
But it was now or never. We drew up a budget: if we were ultra-frugal, we could live on one salary. In September, I turned 50, and in the February, I left my job.
Life was strictly no frills now – I wore clothes older than some of my friends. But my writing flourished and Unspeakable Things was at last ready. A writer friend urged me to give up the search for an agent and self-publish.
The challenge was mind-boggling – I have a phobia of online forms. Self-doubt and anxiety spiked as I set up an author’s website and Facebook page, got the novel typeset, ordered publicity materials and paperback copies, organized a blog tour and commissioned a cover. Finally, and most terrifyingly, I uploaded the novel to Createspace, the mother of all online forms!
Unspeakable Things was published though Amazon in January. I am delighted by the reviews, and by tales of readers neglecting their children and staying up half the night to finish it. After a massive learning curve, it seems I have written a page turner! I love talking to book groups about it – it feels surreal discussing a world that once existed only in my imagination.
My life is very different now. I am working on my second novel The Year of the Ghost, about a haunted family holiday. We live frugally and still wear elderly clothes – my freelance income as an editor is modest! But I have time for the important things: writing, volunteering, friends and family.
And most importantly, I’m living the dream of my five-year-old self – I am a writer.
Unspeakable Things by Sophie Kersey is available on Amazon