Author Vicky Newham will read from her debut novel Turn a Blind Eye at this year’s Bookie. Despite having written since she was a child, it wasn’t until many years (and a few careers later) that she had a ‘lightbulb moment’ that saw her ‘become a writer’:
‘I recognised someone I knew on the stage,’ Stella Duffy said at a recent Kent Festival of Writing event. From that one sentence, recognition and hope skittered through the audience. ‘Someone like me was an actor,’ she told us. It was when she saw a touring theatre company in her New Zealand home town of Tokoroa. She could have been talking about seeing a novelist, a playwright or an artist. Afterwards, I thought about why Stella’s words had struck a chord with so many of us. It was because the penny had dropped for her, and she realised, I can do this. I don’t know how, but if he can, so can I.
When I was chatting to Andreas Loizou (founder of the Margate Bookie), we realised that we’d both been brought up to discount writing as a career option, and even as a hobby. It was simply never mentioned. My parents thought that being a secretary would tide me over until I got married – except neither was what I wanted, so I completed my language degree and set up a damp-proofing business with my boyfriend. Some years later, and after a psychology degree and teacher training, I taught for 10 years. A respectable profession at last, my parents said, but teaching in a school wasn’t what I wanted either. Lurking, squashed and banished, was the desire I’d had since I was six: to be a writer. To write grown-up stories about the crazy, complicated, hurly-burly of life similar to the ones I’d written as a kid, then a teenager, with my Papermate pen in my bedroom at home.
So what changed? What was that ‘I can do this’ moment? It was realising that I didn’t want to be a teacher for the rest of my life and that I needed to reflect seriously on what I did want. Then my mother died, and I saw that life is too short to be doing something that makes you unhappy, and too short to be living according to other people’s expectations. I knew I wanted to write; I simply had to allow the desire to surface and to rest in my conscious mind as a possibility. When I looked around me, I thought three things. If other people can do it, so can I. The worst that can happen is that I’ll fail. And, I won’t know unless I try. So, in 2011, I gave myself permission to plot and write the story I wanted; to give it my best shot and see where it took me. I’ve always thought that you have to believe something is possible for it to happen. Until that point, I didn’t think that being a writer was achievable. It was a silly dream. Getting an agent and a book deal were things that happened for other people. As for a TV option – what was that? Perhaps we all need that thing that rings the bell that tells us: you can do this. You will have to work your butt off, but you can make it happen.
And one of many reasons why I’m delighted to be reading at this year’s Margate Bookie is because I’ve seen the work Andreas and his team have put into developing the festival, and I know he agrees with how important it is for people to feel that writing is something that we can all do. My philosophy on life is to expect nothing but, at the same time, to hope for the best; to hold open in my mind the idea that, with hard work, determination and a willingness to learn, most things are possible in one form or another.
If I can do it, so can you.
You can see Vicky Newham as part of our Holiday Reads session on Thursday 17 August at Turner Contemporary. The session is free but you’re advised to book in advance.