In exactly one month’s time, my debut children’s book, ‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’ will be on the shelves in bookshops. How surreal! My dream a reality. Scary and thrilling at the same time. Exciting and deeply sad because of the loss of my little boy earlier this year.
All my blog posts over the past four months have centred on that tragic loss. My grief has been all-consuming and the pain that I’ve been in every day has been unbearable. I worried about how I would be able to look forward to my book being published. But my book has turned into a lifeline – something that has given me focus and direction. No, the pain of the loss of my little Ned hasn’t lessened, but it means that I’ve had something to grab onto as grief leaves you feeling like you’re adrift at sea, alone and frightened.
I started writing five years ago, after Ned contracted meningitis at six weeks old. Once he recovered I realised how precious life was. How it can be snatched away in the blink of an eye. As I was off work on maternity leave, I decided to sit down and write a short story. I thought to myself, ‘Right enough of this one day I’ll write a book nonsense. I’m going to sit down and actually give it a go.’
My first short story was called ‘Waiting for Light’ (it’s posted on this blog) and I was thrilled that after writing it, I entered it into a competition with Writers’ Forum magazine, and it was placed second. That was the boost I needed. I wrote several short stories over the following months and won or was placed in many. But deep down I knew that I wanted to write for children. And I wanted to write a book.
I returned to work and fell into a downward spiral of depression and anxiety – yet writing was that one thing that I could hold onto. I started writing ‘Grace-Ella’ in the early hours before I had to go to work. A year later I had finished. I had written a book. A children’s book. And despite the depression having taken a real hold of me, I felt a little something – pride I suppose.
After pondering over what to do with my book and reading countless articles on publishing and researching agents and publishers, quite by chance I came across Firefly Press. A Wales based publisher that wanted to publish books for children aged 7-9 that were based in Wales. My story fit the criteria so I sent it off, convinced that it would be rejected and would stop me from pursuing this ridiculous dream. I mean, I had read that it was virtually impossible to get published without an agent, and even more impossible to get an agent without being published.
Three months later came an email for a full manuscript request. Fast forward another month and I was sitting with the publisher and editor of Firefly Press drinking coffee and discussing the real possibility of my book being published. I don’t think I have to say that I floated home that day.
Editing was done and my story was put forward for a book grant with the Welsh Books Council. Then came the waiting … and waiting … and waiting. During this time I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety and started taking antidepressants. It was such a relief to know that it wasn’t just me being stupid and weak – I had an actual illness that needed treating.
Then came the email that my book had been given the grant and an offer of publication from Firefly Press. Well, I squealed and leapt about and did the conga around the house with Tomi and Ned. I had done it. Despite the depression and anxiety, I had worked hard and achieved my dream.
That was last year. I knew that I had to give up teaching as it was the primary cause of my illness, so made the decision at the end of last year, when I had to go off on sick leave to have a hysterectomy, to give up teaching. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I had three little boys to raise, bills to pay, a fairly crippling mortgage. But I was also severely depressed and had to get better.
As soon as I posted my resignation letter something lifted off my shoulders. I could breathe a little easier. Everything seemed that little bit brighter. I was able to give my full attention to my boys and my writing. I was able to take them to school and pick them up every day. Whilst they were at school I wrote. I could take them to swimming, football … the countless clubs that they attended. I had time for reading and homework in the evenings without having to rush them to bed so that I could get on with marking and preparation for school. For the first time in a very long time, I was happy. Really happy. I had my writing and I had my boys.
Then it was all snatched away from me on the 25th of March. My little Ned, only 5 years old, set off with his grandmother to an Easter Egg Hunt and I never saw him alive again. My world was shattered.
I’ve blogged in detail about my journey through grief so I’m not going to go into it here. I know that I’ll never be the same person as I was before. I’ll never again experience true happiness. I’ll never again wake up without that heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’ll never again have a day when I don’t cry.
But, because of Ned, my dream of being an author has come true. I have a book that will be out there for children to read. Ned loved reading. He was reading well above his age, devouring three or four books a night. He was so excited about Mam being an author. And so every day, I get out of bed because I have two other little boys who need their Mam. And I know, deep in my heart, that Ned would want me to continue to pursue my dream. He wasn’t a giver-up. He would try till he got things right. So I won’t disappoint him. I’ll make him proud by writing down the stories that drift into my head.
‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’ will publish in a month’s time – September 15th. And I know that wherever Ned is, he’ll be shouting ‘Go Mam, you’re awesome.’