The Pursuit of Happiness – Writing My First Novel

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I am constantly surprised by life, by how it brings us to exactly what we need at exactly the time we need it.

Throughout my childhood and teens I was always labelled as ‘average’. ‘She’s not a high-flyer, middle of the road,’ is what teachers used to say. The fact that I heard the word ‘average’ in reference to me more than once tells me that it must have been the general consensus. Even my parents, who always encouraged me in everything, thought I was average so I was never really encouraged in what now seems like the career path I should have chosen from the beginning – writing.

I remember as a young child winning class spelling competitions, looking to improve my vocabulary by always learning new words and looking forward to the kind of homework most of the other kids dreaded – writing essays about something to do with ourselves: What I Did This Summer, What I Want To Be When I Grow Up, My Favourite Things etc. I immersed myself in Enid Blyton books and I’d read them over and over again, trying to submerge myself fully into their magical realms. But still, I wanted to be a vet – for which I was told I needed to be better at science; a physiotherapist, for which I was told I needed to be better at maths; and then an actress, which seemed to everyone around me a more plausible option, and when that failed, an interior designer. ‘You’re quite arty and you can probably get away with not going to university for that,’ I was told. I never even considered being a writer, that was for people who were way above average.

For GCSE English coursework we had to write an essay about a topic that interested us. I chose the American civil rights movement and slavery, a topic that is still close to my heart. It evades me how I even knew about this topic at sixteen when we’d never once been taught about it at school, but I wanted to write about it. The teacher graded it as A* and told me it was the best GCSE piece she’d ever read and she would use it as an example for her A Level students. I’m not sure why, at that point, she didn’t say, ‘Hey, Lauren, why don’t you stay on at Sixth Form and study English, and perhaps go on to university to study English literature, instead of going to performing arts school?’ I wasn’t just good at it, I LOVED sitting down to write essays. Why didn’t she or any of my other teachers see this and encourage me?

As a child who’d grown up with an illness, who had always been so different to everyone else, I just craved acceptance, I didn’t look deep to see what I was great at, what I could be great at with the right amount of work. Writing could have been my escape, but I never considered using it as that, so acting was the only way I knew how to escape from life and drama school was the only place I felt truly accepted.

But then life happened and the arthritis took over my body and it is only now, with hindsight, that I can appreciate that this was the best thing that ever happened to me. Not only did it lead me to learn about the body and enable me to heal myself, but it led me to write. Out of nowhere I decided one day that I just HAD to write about my story, so I did. It really was out the blue – I’d never considered it before and it just came to me like an epiphany one random evening while I was lying in bed watching Grey’s Anatomy. After its publication, people would occasionally ask if I was a writer, but still, I lacked the confidence, even after writing a book, to accept that this is what I was. ‘I’m not a writer,’ I remember once saying to someone, ‘I just wrote a book.’

And once again, the epiphany: I remembered that I always wanted to write a novel based on my grandmother’s stories about the East End of London. Eventually I thought, OK, I can do it. I’ll just do it as a hobby in my spare time and see how it goes. But, as any writer can tell you, it took possession of my soul and sent me back to the Enid Blyton days and I realised that I could be the person who does for adults what Enid Blyton did for me, what, as I grew up, Isabel Allende, Yann Martel, Paullina Simons, Paolo Coelho, Oscar Wilde and countless others had done for me. Writing fiction became more real to me than real life. I fell in love with the characters I was creating and at the end of a day of writing, when I had to turn the computer off, I became upset that these characters weren’t real people and I couldn’t wait to get back to them the next day. Writing fiction had me in its tight restraints and wasn’t letting me go anytime soon, and I didn’t want it to.

It took until my late twenties to realise that I had more potential than I was ever made to believe and the only reason I came across my own potential was because of the illness I so hated, which is why I called my autobiography ‘My Enemy, My Friend’. It was my enemy for so long but it led me to the best things in my life. Would I have found my passions without it? I’m not sure. I may have worked as an interior designer all my life, which isn’t a bad gig, but I was destined to be taken elsewhere.

Life, with its endless disappointments, offers us boundless opportunity. How huge is our planet, how monolithic our universe. How can we believe that we should be confined to do only one thing for the rest of our lives? Why does the society we have evolved into tie us down to choosing one career at sixteen years old and sticking to that for ever? We are human beings with souls and passions and loves and hates and the more we live, the more we become capable of. We are made to believe that when we are young we can do anything but as we get older it’s too late. It is in fact the opposite. Why should we subscribe to this idea that we have to find a job and stick to it for fifty-odd years when living makes us capable of and interested in so much more?

I am so excited by life right now, by all the things I can do with my future. Every time life changes a little bit it gives me new interests. Having a baby and hypnobirthing my way through twenty-four hours of labour has made me want to explore, one day, the possibility of helping women through birth naturally and calmly. Reading history books has made me want to go to university one day to study history. Learning how to heal myself of an autoimmune disease has left me with a desire to continue teaching people how to do the same. This doesn’t make me fickle, it makes me ALIVE!

For right now, I am concentrating on this novel, a romantic drama set in the East End of London during WWII. I’ve had to research a lot, which has been part of the fun, and in writing a novel after having never been to university, I’ve realised how much there is to learn – I never knew how much I didn’t know! – which is why, at thirty-two years old and after having a baby, I’m going back to creative writing school for a second course. I crave the opportunity to study and can’t wait to go back.

I’m working tirelessly (or as tirelessly as is possible with a nine-month-old), to perfect my novel so I can get it published. And after it’s published, I intend to write another one, and another, until I eventually give myself the gratification I’ve longed for for so long, of calling myself an author and if life’s constant ups and downs have taught me anything, it’s that I believe I will get there if I work hard enough to do it.

Love & health,
Lauren

 

You can buy My Enemy, My Friend here

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