I’m still sneaking a glance at the letter every now and again, just to make absolutely sure I’ve not imagined it … and it’s still there. The striking pink logo with the wise owl perched on top, and the sentence in the middle that says ‘Publication is scheduled for March 2017’. Honno – the lovely, supportive and encouraging people based in Aberystwyth – are publishing my first crime novel.
This is my second novel. The very first was a story about a spaceman by the imaginative name of Fred, who landed in my own North Manchester suburb some time in 1965. He befriended a little girl and her brother and, without their parents noticing, lived in their house for a whole summer holidays. They had huge adventures together until, early in September, young Fred was called back to the Mother Ship and waved goodbye as his little space pod passed over the Ship Canal. Like me, the little girl in the story was seven years old.
One wet Wednesday afternoon, lovely Mrs Richmond had told us to write a story about a friendship. Several weeks later, as she handed me my seventh blue exercise book with wide lines and Lancashire County Council emblazoned on the front, she smiled.
‘When will we be able to read this masterpiece?’ she asked.
I don’t know what happened to my ‘book’, but Fred stayed with me for a long time. I even remember knitting him with scraps of wool from my Grandmother’s ‘bits’ drawer. He was one-legged, green, wearing red and white striped shorts and sporting a pipe-cleaner aerial. I must have been an odd child.
I wrote then as I do now, fifty years later, to create another world with places and characters which come alive as my pen scratches across the page. For me writing is like reading, but it is even more all-consuming, totally engrossing. I’ve been told that I must have an eye on publication when I write, whether it’s short stories or this, my first ‘grown-up’ novel. I can honestly say that isn’t true. I write because I have stories to tell and there’s no better way of spending time that I can think of.
But then why, all these years later, am I still disappointed that Fred was consigned to the stock room at Alkrington Moss County Primary School and then who knows where?
All I do know for sure is that becoming a Honno author is one of the most exciting things I can think of. A friend said to me recently ‘enjoy every second of the process’. I think I may just be able to do that.