Mel Menzies, Author
FROM OBSCURITY TO BEST SELLING AUTHOR
The author of a number of books, one a Sunday Times No. 4 Best Seller, Mel Menzies is also an experienced Speaker, and has addressed live audiences of between 20 and 700+ in addition to participating in TV and Radio chat shows, leading Family Forums, Marriage Enrichment, and Writers' Workshops.
. . . AND BACK AGAIN!
That’s the by-line. So who is Mel Menzies (Ming-iss not Men-zees)? And how come you’ve never heard of her? And why, with a No. 4 Best Seller under her belt, is she expending her energies in writing to give the profits from some of her books to charity?
The short answer is that I'm probably too flabby to run marathons and too flappy (i.e. scared) to do sky-dives. :) The long answer begins back in my childhood - and the insights I’ve gained could apply to you or, indeed, anyone wanting to become a writer.
NATURE VERSUS NURTURE - A RECIPE FOR SUCCESS?
NATURE – TAKE ONE ARTISTIC TEMPERAMENT
I can’t say that I always wanted to be a writer, simply because the thought never occurred to me. What I can say is that from the time I could hold a pen, I’ve always written: scribbled in note books; authored and performed plays for my parents and sibs; published comics quite the equal of any School Friend!
My father, whom I both feared and adored, read my bedtime story – usually from a large leather-bound copy of Great Short Stories of the World, which included such classics as The Selfish Giant and The Necklace. Despite my youthfulness, we would discuss, at length, the themes and morals contained therein. Under his influence, I soon acquired a love of books and words, ideas and debate.
He was an affectionate and fun-loving person; but he was also prone to bouts of temper, quickly followed by remorse. Highly intelligent (he was a member of Mensa) he found me a disappointment, academically. It was only in adulthood that I realised that he thought he saw in me a mirror-image of himself – i.e. as lacking the discipline to follow through on any of the myriad pursuits which grabbed our interest. Nevertheless, we enjoyed an affinity unmatched by the rest of the family. Naturally, when he began a course in Short Story Writing, although only fourteen, myself, I had to follow suit.
NURTURE - ADD ONE DASH OF DISCIPLINE
It is sometimes fashionable to condemn one’s parents; one’s childhood. I can only commend mine. What my mother lacked in academic prowess, she more than made up for with her practical, down-to-earth, home-making skills, her protection of my sister and me from the worst of my father’s temper, and, crucially, the lessons in self-discipline she liberally dispensed to our bottoms. Red slipper marks were a regular feature! But those lessons proved imperative.
A fun-loving social butterfly, she, too, found me a disappointment, my introvert temperament in sharp contrast to her extrovert nature. Books, being merely collectors of dust as far as she was concerned, were banished to the playroom in the attic of our large house. But that didn’t bother me. On the contrary, I was able to indulge my passion of reading, and writing short stories, out of sight of parental eyes.
AND A GENEROUS DOLLOP OF EXPERIENCE & INSIGHT
My first submission for publication – a short story, with the ghost of a dog as the protagonist – was made when I was fourteen. Having not disclosed my age, naturally, it met with the first of what was to become a growing number of rejection slips. Marriage and motherhood eventually curtailed this budding collection, and it was only after the failure of the one, and the easing into maturity of the other, that I was again able to take up my pen.
MIX WELL, POUR INTO CHOSEN MOULD, TURN OUT WHEN SET
All things work together for good! A friend took me to a seminar, in which, via Myers Briggs Psychometric Profiling (I have a similar personality test if you'd like to take one) delegates were encouraged to discover the Real Me - with all the potential with which you were created.
For the second, no third, time in my life, I felt as if my chains fell off. The low self-esteem and sense of worthlessness that my failed marriage had generated in me, drained away. For the first time ever, I was able to see that writing was not an indulgence. Neither was it a selfish waste of time. It was a gift. A gift which would bring not only pleasure and satisfaction to me, but would be a service for God and for my readers. My aim, through sharing my own experiences, would be to help people to see themselves and their circumstances from a different perspective: to change their lives for the better.
With my new-found confidence, I launched my career. For the next twenty years or so – during which I remarried – I wrote fast and furiously. Much of my material was journalistic: features and articles for magazines. Many were commissioned. Speaking engagements, radio and TV appearances followed; then a number of books: further commissions. Almost all were written under various pen-names. Still haunted by the academic deficiencies my father had identified in me, the shortcomings my mother decried, and my failed marriage, I was lacking in confidence. Taking on another name gave me a sense of other personage, so that it was not me but this other woman who was a Best Selling Author and Speaker.
IN THE EVENT OF POWER FAILURE . . .
And then, at the height of my career, catastrophe struck. With my husband’s business ailing, I had little option but to take on a full-time job. At the same time, my daughter died, suddenly, shockingly, and in suspicious circumstances. Writing and Best Sellers dimmed to a shadowy past.
My daughter had been a heroin addict for more than a decade. Numerous attempts to give up her habit had failed. Until one day, practising tough love, we told her she was on her own. Thus began her recovery. And it was a remarkable recovery! College. Graduation. A loving relationship. A baby. A job. Desperate to share with others what she’d learned, she talked about taking up social work. The urge to help others – to release them from the bondage of drugs – was paramount in her thinking.
She asked me to write a book, a true-life story. A tale which would reveal the true horror of waking up in a doorway, from a drug-induced sleep, to find the dead body of your friend slumped beside you. An account of the endless futility of stealing to fund a habit which was utterly self-destructive. And then the joy – the euphoria – of breaking out of that prison into a life which was so completely fulfilling.
The book was never written. But we did collaborate on a magazine article, my daughter and I. And that, I fear, was her undoing. Because by revealing her hand, she became a target for the dealers. If they could get her back onto drugs . . .
PUT ALL INGREDIENTS INTO COLD STORAGE . . .
The rest is history. And for years the story has remained untold. The job I’d taken on when my husband’s business was in difficulties, took over. But something was lacking. Something I couldn't put my finger on.
Until, waking early one morning, I went to my computer and knew what it was. My daughter’s triumph had to be told. Sung above the rooftops. But in such a way as to protect the identity of both the living and the dead – a novel. And in such a way as to be a tribute to her.
REMIX – AND BEGIN AGAIN
Other parents set up charities in the name of loved ones. I chose not to. We’re all bombarded with requests to support this and that. Why add to it? I decided, instead, to support existing charities. To endeavour to do what my daughter had wanted to do. To help kids stay off drugs in the first place. To help children born HIV+ as a result of those who fail.
So this, in effect, is a re-launch of my career as an author. Or to be more accurate, a new beginning. Having written under a pen name in the past, I know there’s no building on past success. No glory for me. And no gain, either. Only my chosen charities stand to profit. And only then if you buy A Painful Post Mortem. Or buy two and give one to a friend!
Do I mind this anonymity? No I don’t. I said earlier that taking on another name gave me a sense of another persona. And that’s how I like it.
BBC Radio Devon Interview
Listen to me chatting to Dave Fitzgerald about my latest release, Chosen, on BBC local radio.