I’m delighted to welcome Sheila Turner Johnston with her guest post. Over to you, Sheila.
I came fairly late to novel writing – and that’s as far as I’m willing to go with that sentence!
As a child I filled jotters with stories about my family’s pets – kittens, mice, hamsters, and guinea pigs. When I was about ten, I launched a tiny magazine, four minuscule pages stuck together with glue. I don’t remember what I put in it but the first issue ran to a print-run of four before I decided that it was too much like hard work and anyway my mother stopped me shoving any more through the letterboxes of our puzzled neighbours. My literary road wound on through the events of life: emotion-drenched poetry, short stories (some of those, *cough,* weren’t bad) and non-fiction articles for a newspaper. Then one day my elder son asked me if there was anything I still wanted to do in life. I said I would like to write a novel. He replied, “Then write one.” So I wrote one – Maker of Footprints – and my second novel, Healer of My Heart, was published last year.
That might sound as if I snapped my fingers and hey presto, one oven-ready novel! Nothing of the sort happened. The first draft took a year – and that was after a considerable length of time marinading the idea in my head, getting to know the characters enough to make a start on telling their story. Then there were revisions, rewrites, and more than one discouraged mental trip to the bin. I was fifty-eight when this first novel was good enough to be published. Despite the highs and lows of the journey, I really love that book.
There are frustrations in being an ‘older’ debut novelist. I visited one readers’ group only to be greeted with “Oh, I was expecting someone younger!” Perhaps there is an impression that once you reach fifty, the memories of youth, love, careers and the realities of forming relationships tend to atrophy, collapsing into the dust of the past, never to be recalled and certainly not to be revisited and evoked. Literary agents are looking for authors whose careers they can build over years and even decades. This is understandable, but disheartening when more of those decades are behind than ahead, and yet often one’s best work is yet to come.
So do I wish I had written novels earlier in life? No, I genuinely don’t. Maybe I’m a slow learner, but I have a much broader and deeper understanding of life and relationships, the nuances of belief, the spectrum of love in all its forms, the destructiveness that can come from a damaged heart. The prism I look through today has gained more facets with each passing year.
Every year, every week, adds to the well of experiences that a writer can draw on to hone their craft. As the years pass, that well gets deeper. Do not be afraid to draw from it. Like many great creatives, your best may yet be to come!
Thanks so much for this, Sheila.
Sheila loves to hear from readers and authors – especially those with similar experiences. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sheila Turner Johnston was born in west Cork, Ireland and spent her childhood in different counties the length and breadth of the country, as the family moved wherever her father’s job took him. She attended Queen’s University, Belfast, and apart from managing to graduate against all her expectations, one of her best experiences was reading her poetry to an audience that included Seamus Heaney. Sheila has won prizes for both fiction and non-fiction, and has written many articles for both local and national publications. She and her late husband Norman founded the publishing stable Colourpoint Creative Ltd, which is now owned and managed by their two sons.
As a student in Belfast during the Troubles, she was used to explosions. She went to investigate a huge bomb one night, and vividly remembers standing by the rubble of a three-storey building with its front ripped off. Lit by the arc lights of the army and rescue services high on the third floor, three coats still neatly hung on their hooks on the wall above the chasm below, remnants of an innocent evening that ended in death.
Sheila doesn’t write explicitly about the Troubles, but the emotional resonance of this moment – and others like it – permeates all her writing. As she says herself, “Experiences like this force you to evaluate the human psyche, the judgements people make and how they justify, and often regret, their choices.” She is an author who dives deeply into human emotions and relationships, exploring the grey areas between right and wrong and presenting her readers with moral and ethical dilemmas to navigate.
Maker of Footprints ‘Is she good or is she bad? He needs to know.’
Healer of My Heart ‘What leaves you with the fewest wounds? Making peace with the past? Or making war with it?’
The publisher is offering a special bundle of both novels for £12, postage free!
2 thoughts on “#GuestPost ~ ‘I Was Expecting Someone Younger’ by Sheila Turner Johnston @sperringold”
Good on you for ignoring the “we thought you were younger”, and proved age isn’t a barrier if you’re determined to succeed in something you enjoy.
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Thank you! Yes, determination and self belief are essential. Sheila
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