Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a writer. I was obsessed with reading and fancied myself as the next Enid Blyton. I had a clear vision of myself sitting in my beautiful writing shed, hidden under a veil of ivy at the back of the garden with an old typewriter (way more romantic than a Macbook pro), with a massive mug of coffee, accompanied by the birds singing on the window ledge.
But life had other plans for me, at least for a while. During my teenage years I veered so far from my path that I completely forgot about my childhood dream. In fact, had someone reminded me, I would have scoffed, what could someone like me possible have to say that was worth reading?
For many reasons I won’t go into now, my teenage years knocked the stuffing out of me, taking with it my self-esteem, and any bit of self-belief I had. School had not been a positive experience for me, and because I associated all learning with school, I lost the love of it, stopped asking questions, and stopped believing that things could be different.
I became a single parent at 18, and didn’t even apply for college, as college was for “other people”.
Luckily for me though, that feisty, gregarious, smart and determined child wasn’t going to give in without a fight, and over the course of my adult years, she began to resurface.
I founded The Shona Project in 2016, to support teenage girls who were going through similar challenges. TSP is an award-winning non-profit which aims to educate, empower and inspire todays Irish girls to become tomorrows strong confident and curious young women. We do this by offering information, advice, and a safe space to share their stories.
I built the community I needed at 14, so that girls would feel seen and heard, in the hope that their dreams wouldn’t be forgotten in the same way that mine had.
I started to write again, just for myself, often filling notebook after notebook with my thoughts. It allowed me to heal and make sense of experiences which had never made sense before. It helped me identify the learning that I had experienced through hard times and figure out how to apply that learning in my own life.
“You should write a book,” my husband said, over and over again, year after year.
“Maybe,” I would answer.
In 2012 I attended a writers weekend in Waterford, and sat in on a workshop with Monica McInerney, the successful novelist. She asked us all to write a short story entitled “My Best Friend”. I sat nervously listening as everyone shared their stories about their childhood friendships, the women they could always turn to and the shared experiences which tied them together forever.
“Oh no,” I thought, “I’ve gotten this horribly wrong.” I cringed as I shared a fictional piece about my two best friends, two tall, burly guys with beards, and how I’d insisted that they be my bridesmaids, walking me up the aisle in matching lavender empire cut dresses, gently adjusting my veil before taking my bouquet as the horrified minister stood aghast.
Monica approached me after the workshop.
“You have a wonderful tone,” she said. “You should write a book”.
“Maybe,” I said.
Since we launched in 2016, the Shona Project has delivered workshops to almost 13,000 girls all over Ireland as well as in India and Africa. We’ve featured in TV shows, met royalty, held huge events and connected with women and girls both in person and online. In March, we held our first online festival, bringing together almost 100 amazing speakers to share their stories. The event had a combined 1 million video loads in one week.
I was speaking about my work on a national radio show about a year ago, and the producer said, “You should write a book, I know a publisher, will I connect you?”
“Maybe,” I said.
On Friday last, my first book was published. It is a love letter to my 14-year-old self, the voice she had lost, and the support that she needed.
We may struggle, and we may lose ourselves, but our voices and our stories are our most treasured possessions. And I’m so glad I rediscovered mine.
It may not look like I thought it would. I don’t have a shed, or a typewriter, and I don’t even drink coffee. I wrote my book during lockdown on a laptop, much of the time in my pyjamas. But that doesn’t matter.
What makes me happiest and proudest of all, is to be able to talk to girls in schools and share the happy ending to this section of my story.
“You can take any number of different paths, and you may lose sight of yourself and your dreams completely from time to time, but you can always find your way back. I’m proof of that”
I wrote a book.
There’s no maybe about it.
(c) Tammy Darcy
About You’ve Got This: Learn to love yourself and truly shine in your teens and beyond
The ultimate guide to embracing your individuality, loving yourself and learning to truly shine – in your teens and beyond.
It’s a paradox familiar to many parents: girls are achieving like never before, yet they are consumed with doubt and anxiety on the inside. Girls worry about how they look, what people think, whether to play sports, why they are not getting ‘perfect’ grades, and how many likes and followers they have online. This positive and empowering guide is designed to help girls find their place in the world and grab life with both hands.
Full of practical information on making new friends, staying positive, the online world and ways to take care of yourself, this handbook will boost your child’s happiness, self-esteem, positive thinking, mindfulness and resilience.
‘A powerful, practical must-read for teenage girls in Ireland.’ Niamh Fitzpatrick, psychologist and author
Order your copy online here.