It’s a weird thing, this book-writing business, isn’t? I’d always been in awe of people who write fiction. Since I first fell in love with books, way back when I was just a wee slip of a thing, small enough to slide between the rows of shelves in the library and hide there with a stash of them, the process of their creation fascinated me.
How does the writer come up with the story? I would wonder.
And the characters, and the setting?
And how do they know when a chapter should finish, and how the next one would start and how many words they should use?
And where do they get their names from for the people and the places and the pets and the title, even?
The mechanics of making a book perplexed me in the same way a car driving up a hill did. I used to be amazed that my father could make our family car go all the way up a very steep hill without it rolling backwards. He was my hero. And then my mother learnt to drive, and she could do it too. She was Superwoman. I knew I would never be able to do that. Not me. It was the same with books. Enid Blyton, J.M Barrie, Judy Blume, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott – how DID they do it? I would never be able to do that. Not me.
As the years rolled by, I added more and more idols to my literature roll-call: Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Sylvia Plath, Harper Lee, F Scott Fitzgerald. By the time I got to Plath, I’d decided that I might actually be capable of keeping a car from rolling down a hill after all, and passed my driving test aged 17 ½ on my first day of Upper Sixth. That was a great moment. My dad was still a hero, and my mum still Superwoman, but I wasn’t quite as incompetent as I’d secretly suspected. I can’t remember exactly, but I probably celebrated passing the test by sticking a Blondie LP on my record player and opening a new book. Possibly a Salinger or a Steinbeck who I would have been discovering just around then, or a good old Austen or a Hardy. Whatever I was reading way back at my managing to drive a car up a hill stage of teenagedom, I know exactly what I’d have been thinking: I could never do this. Not me.
And more years rolled by. I went to Uni and did a degree in English and Drama (more books, more idols). I started my working life – marking 11+ papers (yes, really), staff writer at a lifestyle magazine, working for a pr company, and finally launching a freelance copywriting career. I bought a house, got married, had a child – and through it all there were more books, more writing idols, and more sighs of: I could never do that. Not me. But then, on the approach to my 40th birthday, another thought. A different one. A thought that took me totally by surprise: what if I could do it, that novel thing. What if I could?
I realised with a jolt that it had taken the best part of thirty-five years to ask the ‘what if I could’ question, instead of humming the ‘I could never do that’ tune, and I was damned if another thirsty five were going to pass without me knowing. Another ten, even. Hell, not even one.
So, at the age of thirty-nine and a half, I finally joined a creative writing group – and I was the youngest in the class by two decades. We were a mixed bag of allsorts with one thing in common; a collective desire to write fiction. Two things, actually – we’d all come to this point after years of muttering the same ‘I could never do that’ mantra. Not us. But, guess what – we did. We flipping did.
The words that flowed from the people in that class were magical; pure and honest and crazily brilliant. Sadly, I’ve lost touch with many of the folk from that group, and I don’t know if any of them ever completed a novel. But the seeds of my own book were planted back then. It would be another few years before I actually started it, and more again before the first draft was complete – but fast forward another book and idol packed thirteen years, and, at the age of fifty-three, my book, the novel that I wrote has finally got to the top of the hill. There were a few hiccups along the way, a few times when the handbrake slipped and we rolled back down a bit, my book and me.
But we got there. I got there. I did this. Yes, me.
(c) Lesley Allen
About The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir
A stark but uplifting story of bullying and redemption
Almost too terrified to grip the phone, Biddy Weir calls a daytime television show.
The subject is bullying, and Biddy has a story to tell.
Abandoned by her mother as a baby, Biddy lives in her own little world, happy to pass her time watching the birds – until Alison Fleming joins her school.
Popular and beautiful, but with a dangerous, malevolent streak, Alison quickly secures the admiration of her fellow students. All except one. And Alison doesn’t take kindly to people who don’t fit her mould . . .
A story of abuse and survival, of falling down and of starting again, and of one woman’s battle to learn to love herself for who she is, The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir is Lesley Allen’s startlingly honest debut novel, perfect for fans of Rowan Coleman and Julie Cohen.