I was very lucky to grow up in a family where everyone loved reading, and my favourite memories are all associated with going to the library or having the wonderful treat of going to choose a book of my very own. I had many favourite childhood books, I’ve written about some of the later ones here, but I think of the early stories nothing captured my imagination like Milly-Molly-Mandy, not least because of the illustrations.
I used to write my own stories, most of which were heavily inspired by those written by Joyce Lankester Brisley, and I dreamed one day of becoming a children’s author - a dream, which has never gone away - I hope one day I’ll finish the children's book I started writing in 1995!
I wrote an homage to Milly-Molly-Mandy when I was nine, consisting of six chapters of The Smiles Family (complete with a map) written and illustrated into little books that I made up with paper pieces and a stapler. I can’t tell you the excitement I still have when I buy paper or a new exercise book - so many of my first attempts at writing started in these little books - I kept a lot of them, because they gave me so much pleasure writing them.
Taking a look through the titles and their accompanying drawings I can see I loved historical figures even then. A story about The China Gentleman, a magical tale where a figurine in a cabinet comes to life, is illustrated with a gentleman in Victorian costume with the title, ‘Would you like some snuff?’ This is in an exercise book grandly labelled, Stories for Children, and features The Ballerina, A Visit to the Fair, and The Theatre. Another story features a Victorian aunt, who is young, pretty, and smells of lavender water - in the drawing I’ve given her a reticule.
By the time I reached the age of ten or eleven one of my great loves was ballet, and I loved Noel Streatfeild’s book, Ballet Shoes. I wrote my first attempt at a novel with a friend at school, and we called it Orphan Dancer. Our heroine was named Rosanna Estelle who dreamed of becoming a dancer from her earliest days at the orphanage. I think you might be able to guess what happened! We were often given permission to stay in and write it at playtime, which we loved, as no one else enjoyed the same privilege, and we thought we were very special.
|Dancing on the beach|
Apart from some pieces published in a school magazine, and English composition at school, which I loved, I didn’t write for a long time. I went on to art school, and became a teacher, always thinking that I’d love to write a novel, but never being brave enough to attempt it. When Jane Austen sequels started appearing I really felt inspired, I loved Pride and Prejudice, and it was wonderful to start writing again.
Lydia Bennet’s Story, Willoughby’s Return, and Mr Darcy’s Secret were my first novels, and I’ve since gone on to write timeslip/dual story novels, Searching for Captain Wentworth, Project Darcy, and Mr Darcy’s Christmas Calendar. I’m writing another Jane Austen inspired novel, but I’m determined to go back to the historical children’s book I started all those years ago. Perhaps I’ll get it finished in another twenty years time!