Creative Writing: Book Launch & Signing For Time To Shine

Posted at 22:59pm on 29th November 2014

Not the best of photographs, but this is me telling my audience, at my Book Launch, yesterday, about my creative writing journey.  My love of books began at the age of five, when my father used to read my favourite bedtime story, Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant from the leather-bound copy of Great Stories of the World, which you can see me clutching in one hand.

It just shows the importance of parents reading to their children!  Despite being so young, I instinctively learned much about the structure of story: the conflict, the high point, the denouement.  How could you not when reading of the giant, who having banished the children from his garden which was then plunged into perpetual winter, he looked out one morning and saw Spring had returned in one corner.  Running outside, he found a solitary child standing beneath a blossom covered tree. It still makes me weep to this day when I read on.

"Who hath dared to wound thee?" roared the giant when he saw the prints of two nails in the child's hands and feet.  "Tell me that I may slay him with my sword."

"Nay," answered the child, "these are the wounds of love."  And a strange awe fell on him as he knelt before the boy.

That story had a profound effect on me which has lasted to this day.  It also launched me as a reader, and as a writer.  Disappearing to the attic when the rest of the family were engrossed in extrovert activities, I would bury my head in my father's collection of books, and ultimately began to write stories for my comic, School Friend.  By the time I'd reached the age of fourteen, I'd received my first rejection slip, from Argosy magazine - home of H.E.Bates The Darling Buds of May.  My journey then continued into my late teens, when I worked for American author, Paul Gallico.

Paul Gallico

Author of Snow Goose, Ludmilla, Thomasina and Flowers for Mrs 'Arris, among many other books, he was working on the serialisation of the sinking of the SS Victoria, at the time.  This was the true story of the ferry that plied between Larne and Stranraar, on which every woman and child perished in a violent storm in the 1950's.  It's my belief that this almost certainly inspired his later book - which became a film - titled The Poseidon Adventure.

For inspiration, Mr Gallico would stride through his mimosa-scented garden at Landmark, in Salcombe, South Devon, with me scuttling along behind taking shorthand as he dictated.  Later, when he had phlebitis, he would dictate to me from his four poster bed.  I also had the privilege of cataloguing his vast library.

When Baroness von Felz Fein, who was later to become his wife, visited Landmark, she gave me a wonderful suede and leather handbag she no longer needed, and my very first cashmere jumper.  She brought with her her daughter, Ludmilla, who inspired the book by the same name.

A Fallow Period?  Or Feeding the Future?

One of Paul Gallico's favourite sayings, which I've taken to heart, was: "It's only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader."  What I was to learn in the following years, was that in order to establish a good red blood flow, you needed the enriching experience of life.  Thus, despite my love of books and writing, it was to be some years before my own career was launched.

It was only when I had the experiences of an adulterous marriage, divorce, and single parenthood behind me that I felt I had something worthwhile to write about.  It was certainly something that traditional publishers picked up and ran with.  My aim in writing - which continues to this day - was to comfort, encourage, help and support others in similar circumstances, with the same comfort, help and support I had received.  And gratifyingly, judging by the amount of fan mail that came my way, and the heartrending stories it contained, I was left in no doubt that I had done so.  TheTug of Two Loves and Divorced But Not Defeated were swiftly followed by Where is my Child? - the story of my middle daughter's drug addiction - and Second Marriage and Stepfamilies, when, after nearly six years as a single parent, I married again.

Other publishers began to approach me with commissions, best of all being one I nearly turned down because I found the story line too harrowing.  How glad I am that I allowed myself to be persuaded to proceed.  Sent off to Geneva by Hodder & Stoughton to research the subject matter, The Last Mountain entailed my taking a visit to the World Health Organisation and Glaxo's head office, as well as speaking with the head of the world AIDS research.  The book, written hard on the heels of another Hodder book, Healed Within, became a Sunday Times No. 4 Bestseller.  And just as a momentous decision was being made in the UK government about compensation for haemophiliacs who had become HIV as a result of contaminated blood being imported from USA, I happened to be visiting the Houses of Parliament with my then MP, author Rupert Allason.

A further fallow period followed when circumstances meant that I had to earn a living.  No!  Even with a No 4 Bestseller to my name, my income was not enough to give us a living wage!   During that time, my middle daughter was first healed of her heroin addiction - put herself through college, graduated, settled down and had a baby - then died five years later in suspicious circumstances.  Her story, my story, and the grief and relief that it entailed had to be told.  While still working full time, I managed to write and publish A Painful Post Mortem.

Signing copies of Time to Shine

Retirement from full time employment would, I thought, finally allow me to resume full time writing.  How wrong I was!  My father's death, selling up and moving house, and finally an incredibly traumatic and distressing situation when my mother was refused entry to what had been her home for nearly sixty years, threatened to destabilise not only my writing career, but my whole life and belief system.  Didn't God care, I ranted?

As if in answer, I found myself being commissioned to write a piece titled Meet the Author for a national magazine with a large readership.  Immediately after that, two journalists approached me - one from Devon Life, the other from National Geographic - asking if they might interview me in connection with the time I worked for Paul Gallico.  It was too coincidental to pass up, and I knew that if I allowed myself to give in to my loss of faith it would be the end of my writing career.  And in a final act of kindness and affirmation, good friends offered to help by putting on a book launch for me.

Which is why it was so gratifying to sell so many books on Saturday.

Some of those who came to the book launch, held in a lovely Victorian house, bought more than one copy to give as a gift for others, and I was able to enscribe them with Christmas greetings.  Others bought copies of my earlier books, discounted when purchased with a copy of Time to Shine.  My faith was restored.

Five star review on Amazon

If you're tempted to make a purchase but want to know more, read the wonderful five star review that has been left on Amazon from a lady I have never met.  All profit from every book sold is for two charities - Care for the Family, supporting marriages, parents and bereavement; the other, Tearfund, tackling child trafficking, the Ebola crisis and poverty worldwide.

Your Comments:

Gigi Falstrom
1st December 2014
at 4:19pm
Mel, thank you so very much for telling your story. I've known you via Facebook for many years, but now I know you and love who I've come to know. Each person has a personal story that can be an inspiration to others. Although our stories may seem unique to us, as we learn about others, we find that as humans we have many of the same wants, needs, hurts, disappointments, challenges and rewards. We learn coping from each other's stories. I personally love the stories that remind us of God's love and care for his people because this is what got me through all my difficult experiences from personal tragedy and illness to success. He touches us at just the right moments in time and gives us the skills and mindsets we need. In my own case, he brings the right people to me at the right time. Your story is one of those rights. Thank you for your openness and willingness to tell your stories.
9th January 2015
at 6:01pm
Thank you so much Gigi. I was brought up with the maxim 'you shouldn't wash your dirty linen in public'. But - as I've said above - when I wrote my first two books, The Tug of Two Loves and Divorced But Not Defeated (both autobiography and, therefore, written under a pen name) I received so much mail from around the world telling me that the writers had no idea anyone else had gone through what they'd gone through, that it made me realise the value of being open; of sharing. God bless you, Gigi. And thank you again.

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