Hazel McHaffie

No experience wasted

They say no experience is wasted on a writer. Well, inasmuch as broadening horizons and sharing feelings and empathising with others goes, that’s probably true. But I think it’s also a fact that if we’re receptive we can make the most of unexpected opportunities life throws at us too.

Last week, for instance, I had to visit my dentist. No big deal. Once there I didn’t have long to wait but long enough to read an article in Good Housekeeping about Jo Cannon whose recent (as of January this year) phenomenal success as an author has been emblazoned on Facebook. What I didn’t know was that she left school at 15 with one O-level in French, she worked at some pretty mundane jobs, but then decided medicine was the career for her. Hello? Ambitious then. Prepared to work jolly hard, too.

She did indeed apply herself with huge determination, funding her studies by delivering pizzas at night, and finally qualified as a medical doctor at the age of 41. Wahey! What a triumph. Psychiatry appealed to her, but she was troubled by many of the cases she saw, so by way of catharsis, she began writing a blog. Success with that led her to do a creative writing course, which in turn led to a top agent taking her on, and terrific success with The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. And along the way she was always ready to use her experiences across the board to authenticate her writing.

Her impending second book has attracted a seven figure sum. What an inspirational tale. All power to her writing elbow! Ten minutes in the dentist’s waiting room well spent for me too.

Holly Bourne booksThen, taking yet another break to wander in a motorway station to unravel my poor compressed spine on a long journey, I chanced on these two books by Holly Bourne: Am I Normal Yet? and The Manifesto on How to be Interesting. Now, I confess that YA books really aren’t my thing, but having just included a fifteen-year-old narrator with issues in my own latest novel, Inside of Me, I was curious enough to buy both of them. The style of writing swings between breezy, funny and poignant, capturing the everyday reality for youngsters grappling with teenage insecurity, bullying, obsessive compulsive disorders, self harm, illicit relationships. Holly Bourne is another writer who has used her own experience of life as a teen and a journalist and an agony aunt, to get inside the skin of her protagonists.

As the heroine in TMOHTBI says: It’s material; it’s material; it’s material. Question is, what material can I get out of my current experience: promotion of my latest book ……?

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