Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Caroline Smailes: Why I'd Quite Like To Thank Richard Madeley

I am delighted to welcome fantastic author CAROLINE SMAILES to Coffee and Roses. Her brand new book, The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is published this week. It's already receiving rave reviews and is an absolute must-read. Over to you, Caroline!

Being a student and finding out that I was pregnant seemed like the end of the world.

And even after I had come to terms with the pregnancy, and long after my baby had been born, I was dogged by a sense of failure. In fact, three children, a happy marriage and several house moves later, I was still haunted by that ghost of my abandoned studies.

So, when the opportunity to return to academia presented itself I jumped at the chance to study for a PhD, but this brought with it new, unforeseen problems.

My break from university had left me out of touch with current research and being a mother and wife had changed me. I wasn’t the same na├»ve, young girl who had been excited by the challenge of phonetics and phonology. Yet I continued with my studies, the voice in my head telling me that I would prove wrong all the people who had told me that having my baby would ruin my life.

I was in my second year of PhD study when I miscarried our fourth child. This brought devastation into my daily life. I felt lost and confused. In my sadness and grief I recognised that I wasn’t being true to myself. I finally understood that I’d been too busy trying to please other people and in doing so had forgotten how to please me. It was in amongst the chaos and upset that I turned to writing.  
Writing had been my 'safe place', it had always been my safety net. I had numerous diaries, poems and snippets of captured moments. Yet this time it was different. The writing about my feelings surrounding the miscarriage developed into a story and that story into something longer.

I found myself stealing increasingly larger amounts of 'spare' time to write. My time with the story offered an escape and a chance to explore issues and thoughts. Through writing I was finding myself, I was finally being true to me.

Fast-forward five months to September 2005 and I was eating my lunch in front of the TV. I was watching a repeat of a Richard and Judy programme. The presenters were talking about someone who Richard called 'a nearly woman'. It makes me laugh now, but I can’t even remember who they were talking about. He gushed that this 'nearly woman' often tried new things, but she never finished them.

Richard Madeley’s words hit home and I froze. I was a 'nearly woman'.

I felt that I was ‘nearly’ finishing many things, but not fully committing to any. At that very moment I knew that if I didn’t make some drastic changes I ran the risk of living the rest of my life as a 'nearly woman'.

Within the next two weeks, I dropped out of my PhD study and cancelled my funding. I had made a choice, I was going to be true to myself, I was going to be a writer. Of course, my journey was never going to be all plain sailing. Many people close to me had been shocked at my switch, telling me that I was throwing away my career to follow a ridiculous dream. Academia offered financial security, writing didn’t.

Possibly I’m stubborn or maybe I was driven by a desire to prove people wrong, but I spent every single spare moment writing, late nights, early mornings, in the car, in the bath, giving up my favourite TV shows. Writing simply became an obsession, the characters in the novel occupied my mind and I was determined.

I finished the final draft of my novel a year later, on holiday. We celebrated with champagne in the afternoon and my falling asleep in a chair, fully clothed. Ironically, I guess by finishing the novel I put myself onto a different level of ‘nearly’, as it was suddenly all about how to find an agent and how to submit to publishers. My reaction to this was to start a blog, while trying to figure out the best next step. And it was three weeks later that a publisher stumbled on my blog, read an extract from my novel and asked for the full manuscript. And a week later, when I received my first publishing contract.

But even now, with my fifth novel about to be published, the voice of Richard Madeley still haunts me. It taunts me with the threat of one day becoming a ‘nearly woman’, it makes me determined to keep writing.

One day, I’d quite like to thank Richard Madeley.

Thanks so much to Caroline for such a brilliant post! You can follow Caroline on twitter @Caroline_S, on facebook and visit her website here. Her amazing new book, The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is published by The Friday Project this week and I can’t wait to read it!

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