A few days ago I wrote a blog post about how my life didn’t turn out as I’d envisaged and how the best laid plans can’t always come to fruition – you can read that post here. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Gill Thompson to share her inspiring story.
Like many writers, I spent much of my childhood creating stories. When characters came into my head I gave them words and took them on adventures influenced by whoever I was reading at the time: Enid Blyton, C.S Lewis, Alan Garner, Jean Plaidy. There was no doubt in my mind that I would one day write a novel.
But although my father, a sometime writer himself, encouraged my creativity, he suggested that teaching was a more reliable career, so I took a degree in English Literature. If I couldn’t write books, then maybe I could read them instead. Most of my working life has been spent lecturing in English at sixth form level. But the hankering to write never went away. For years it was a dream that might only be realised when I had the leisure and financial independence to write. I couldn’t see this happening for a long time. But then my father died. He left me a little money and I started to think I could use it to fuel my writing ambitions.
No sooner had I made plans, than my husband become ill and the plans were put on hold. I was too busy trying to look after him whilst keeping up my teaching commitments and supporting our two teenage children. All ambitions to write were shelved indefinitely. But as my husband slowly recovered and our children progressed to the next stage in their lives, I finally started to claw back some time for myself. One day I was listening to the lunchtime news and heard Gordon Brown apologise to the ex child migrants to Australia who had been lied to by the British government, sold a dream life on the other side of the world on the basis that their parents were dead, then cruelly treated by so called Christian brothers. Some were never to see their parents again, and those parents often spent fruitless years trying to track their children down. I was appalled and started to read more about this tragic story. I eventually spoke to some of the ex child migrants who lamented the fact their experiences were still relatively unknown. With their permission, I started to write a novel based on their lives. But I realised if I was to do their stories justice I needed to be the best writer I could, so I enrolled on a Creative Writing M.A at the University of Chichester.
There my wise tutors and fellow students helped me to shape the novel that is now ‘The Oceans Between Us.’ It took nine years, eighty drafts and bucket loads of blood, sweat and tears, but I finally found an agent and then a publisher. The book is out in the world now, as is its successor ‘The Child on Platform One.’ Both are doing well.
I now look back on that challenging time of life with remembered horror. Yet if I hadn’t experienced grief, anxiety and – often – sheer hopelessness, I might not have managed to draw on those emotions in my writing. Sometimes it’s only when plans change, and we think we have to surrender our dreams, that we develop the patience and determination to see them through.
Gill runs a creative writing website which you can find here.