Today – 1st July – is #NationalNorthernAuthorsDay. I’m northern. I’m an author. It’s therefore a special day for me and what’s even more special is that this year is the very first year for #NationalNorthernAuthorsDay.
Set up by northern authors, Trisha Ashley and Milly Johnson, it’s about celebrating northern authors past and present. Northern authors have an opportunity to promote their own work over on Twitter and celebrate their favourite northern authors.
I’m northern born and bred. My parents are from the area around Bishop Auckland in Co Durham but I was born in Middlesbrough in Teesside. Shortly before my fourth birthday, we moved to the market town of Guisborough, still in Teesside (although it was known as Cleveland back then). I left home when I went away to university in Loughborough, Leicestershire, and lived all over the country after that, as far north as Edinburgh and as far south as Reading. But the north always felt like home and I settled in North Yorkshire seventeen years ago, moving to Scarborough a year later where I’ve been ever since.
(The beautiful north: Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland, a view over Lake Windermere and Hardraw Force Waterfall in the Yorkshire Dales)
I’m immensely proud of being northern but have experienced a lot of prejudice about my roots over the years. It always astonishes me how many people believe the phrase “it’s grim up north” and think of it as dark, dirty and industrial. And don’t get me started on the stereotypes of all northerners wearing flat caps, eating fish and chips, walking whippets and still having outside toilets. Rude! Yes, there are parts of the north that are industrial but this is part of our heritage and essential for the economy. There are also parts of the south that are industrial. In the same way, both the north and the south boast exceptional beauty. If you’ve never been, just Google any of the following: Yorkshire Dales, Northumberland, Lake District National Park, Yorkshire Coast. Wow!
(The beautiful north: Castle Howard, Scarborough Castle and Ribblehead Viaduct)
As well as boasting stunning scenery, the north is proud to present a plethora of writing talent, past and present. From poets such as Wordsworth, Ted Hughes and W H Auden (remember that gorgeous poem read at the funeral in Four Weddings and a Funeral?) to playwrights such as Alan Ayckbourn and Alan Bennett to authors such as the Brontë sisters, Catherine Cookson and Beatrix Potter, the north has demonstrated impressive writing credentials across the years.
One of my northern writing heroes is Catherine Cookson. What a writer! Born into extreme poverty in Tyneside, Cookson channelled her experiences into over 100 books. My mum has read all her books and I have probably read about a quarter to a third of them, borrowing from my mum’s collection in my teens and early 20s. My favourites include the Tilly Trotter series, The Dwelling Place and A Dinner of Herbs. I would certainly cite Catherine Cookson as an early inspiration for me becoming an author as, along with Virginia Andrews, she was the first author of adult books I read prolifically. They both taught me what a page-turner was. You can find Catherine Cookson’s author page on Amazon here.
Moving into the present day, I am now a northern author myself. Certainly never imagined that when I was reading Catherine Cookson’s novels! All my books are set in North Yorkshire, on the coast or in the countryside in the Yorkshire Wolds. I can see me writing books in other settings but I don’t anticipate moving away from the north. It’s what I know and it’s what I love. My readers seem to love my setting too. Phew!
I’m very lucky to class some super talented northern writers as good friends so want to take this opportunity to give a shout-out to three of them:
Yorkshire-based Sharon Booth writes stories that include “love, laughter and happy ever after” and they’re simply gorgeous. I’ve read and loved every single one. With Yorkshire settings inspired by the Dales, Robin Hood’s Bay and Knaresborough, you can find her Amazon author page here.
Helen Phifer is based in Cumbria and writes crime and horror books. I absolutely love her Annie Graham series which are crime with a supernatural/horror book but her pure crime are superb too. On Amazon, you can find Helen’s author page here.
Alys West is also Yorkshire-based and she has a couple of different genres in her writing toolkit with contemporary fantasy and steampunk. Both are genres I’d never explored before but Aly’s work is fabulous and I’m a convert! Alys’s author page can be found here.
And, of course, you can visit the fictional North Yorkshire Coast town of Whitsborough Bay through my books, and take a trip to Hedgehog Hollow in the Yorkshire Wolds with my brand new series set in a hedgehog rescue centre. Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow is out tomorrow. My author page is right here.
Wishing all northern writers a happy #NationalNorthernAuthorsDay. Are you doing anything special to celebrate? As for me, I’m about to nip to the toilet (outside of course), put my flat cap on and take my whippet out for a walk. Then I think I’ll enjoy a fish and chip supper 😉
Please do join in with the fun over on Twitter but don’t forget to use the hashtag #NationalNorthernAuthorsDay to join in the conversation. Thanks Trisha and Milly for setting this up 🙂
I got the results through this morning for my Masters in Creative Writing and I’m so excited to have secured a distinction. I know that, in the great scheme of things, the individual grade doesn’t really matter and it’s simply getting a Masters that counts but, for me, this was a personal journey and a goal I really wanted to achieve because of what happened with my undergraduate degree.
I have a BSc (Hons) in Banking and Finance from Loughborough University (Leicestershire). Studying my degree was full of highs and lows. When I applied to Loughborough, I wanted to be a bank manager and I hoped to secure sponsorship from one of the major high street banks to go there. I was fortunate enough to secure a place on TSB’s sponsorship programme which meant a small financial sum each year (positioned as being for text books but actually spent on pints of Purple Nasty!), holiday work in a local branch if I wanted it, a year out working for them, and potential to secure a place on their management trainee scheme after graduating.
So, at age 17, I’d already partially-secured a place on a graduate scheme which was an exciting possibility. The only challenge was whether I could pass the degree – something that proved more challenging than I could ever have predicted.
I remember sitting in my first economics lecture and listening to the professor stating smugly, “If you haven’t studied economics at A level, you’re going to struggle. And if you haven’t studied maths at A level either, you are going to massively struggle.” I hadn’t studied either of them and that professor was right. I struggled. I didn’t understand macro economics, I didn’t understand micro economics, I couldn’t do accountancy and quantitative analysis gave me nightmares. Thankfully, we studied banking law and business organisations too; subjects which I did understand. We could choose options and picking Marketing and HR also saved me. I finished my first year with a 2:2 average, although a 3rd in certain subjects. Oops.
My second year was worse. I could continue with my preferred options but I couldn’t drop any of the subjects I hated. That same economics professor made a joke about anyone who hadn’t understood the first year not having a chance of grasping the second year. Also right. I spent hours in the library or locked in my bedroom with the course textbook and a dummy’s guide to the subjects yet still nothing made sense. Even with the subjects I liked, I couldn’t seem to secure a decent grade and I was at a loss as to what I was doing that was so wrong. Frustratingly, I now know that a lot of it was down to poor referencing but none of the tutors thought to tell me that at the time. Cheers for that!
If struggling with my studies wasn’t bad enough, my social life fell apart. I’d chosen to stay in the Halls of Residence on the committee, where I was social secretary. One of my best friends from Halls in my 1st year was also on the committee and we’d chosen rooms on the same floor of our tower block with all sorts of plans for the fun we’d have. But we didn’t have fun. When we came back after the long summer break (bearing in mind that this was the days before social media, email or mobile phones so we had only exchanged a couple of short letters), he was very distant and didn’t seem to want to spend time in my company. I’m not sure what happened there. He quickly became part of a clique on our floor and the group would regularly go out together without ever asking me to join them. They’d return in the early hours, crank up the music, and shout at each other around the corridor while I curled up under my duvet in tears. I hated that year. I’ve never felt so lonely in my whole life. The only friend I had on my floor was a mature student from Ireland who also seemed to be an ‘outcast’ but, sadly, he was missing his girlfriend back in Ireland too much and made the decision to drop out at the end of the first term.
All alone again, I tried to throw myself into my studies but that’s not easy when you don’t understand your subjects. I tried repeatedly to get help from tutors but every discussion was over my head and I’d leave their office more confused than I was when I arrived.
It never entered my head to drop out – it wasn’t an option as far as I was concerned – but that year really was horrendous. I will be eternally grateful to two friends of mine off my course, Darrell and Andrew, who were there for me in my final term. We never talked about me being lonely and I always put on this display of confidence around them, but I think they both just sensed it. They’d both drag me out for something to eat or a walk around a park to stop me festering in my room. Darrell, in particular, was a Godsend, because he tutored me too, helping break down some of the concepts I just couldn’t get my head around.
If I hadn’t had a year out, I don’t think I’d have looked back very fondly on my university days but that year out made me. I’d worked every holiday in my local TSB branches but I had an opportunity to work in their Head Office in my third year and it was amazing. I shared a house with another two sponsored students from Loughborough and we had so much fun. I loved my job and had some great work experience alongside a brilliant social life, mixing with the other sponsored students and management trainees.
When I returned to Loughborough for my final year, it was with a fresh perspective and a new confidence. I was determined to make the most of the opportunity.
I found the work experience added value in subjects like HR and Marketing and I had finally been able to drop most of the maths and economics-based subjects although there was one compulsory one called business finance which, for me, might as well have been conducted in Russian for all I understood of it! I made a mess of my business finance exam, which I fully expected, but I did well in the others. I didn’t dare to dream that I could get a 2:1. I wasn’t even expecting a high 2:2 yet I did somehow manage to secure the 2:1. It was only by 0.1% but it was still a 2:1 and I was beyond thrilled with it. I also made some really good friends that year and had the social life I’d been lacking in my second year, meaning I could graduate with happy memories instead of feeling relieved to escape from the loneliest time of my life.
Because I’d studied Marketing, I had a chance to get my marketing professional qualification at the end of my final year by doing a few more lessons and an exam after my main degree exams had finished, so I did that. I secured a position on TSB’s management trainee scheme, as hoped, which meant studying my professional HR qualification as well but, when I was in my mid-twenties, that was it. I was finished with education. I had a degree and two professional qualifications and no way was I studying again. Ever.
For the last 3.5 years, I’ve been a home-based tutor for the HR professional qualification that I possess. I run webinars, mark assignments and respond to student queries. Working in education got me thinking about studying again and, even though I’d sworn I never would, I started to weaken. My problem with my undergraduate degree had been that it included subjects I didn’t care about or understand. What if I studied something I was passionate about instead? So I enrolled on a Masters in Creative Writing with Open University which started in October 2017.
Working full-time, writing and studying is not easy. One sacrifice I knew I had to make was ceasing my role as Brown Owl. There was no way I could fit in planning and running a Brownie Pack as well, unless I wanted to give up on sleep.
After my experiences with my undergraduate degree, I was determined that I wouldn’t struggle through my Masters. I’d self-taught myself much of the content and had put it into practice in writing several books already so the actual subject area wasn’t a challenge for me. What I struggled with was the commentary we had to submit with some assignments. It took me quite some time to get my head around what was needed and the feedback seemed to be inconsistent and contradictory which was frustrating. When we did our secondary option – script-writing for me – I actually challenged the marking of it because it was so contradictory and the second tutor agreed I had been under-marked on it. But she decided I’d been over-marked on my fiction and ended up downgrading my whole assignment from distinction to merit. I was absolutely gutted. Lesson learned the hard way.
Right from the start, I had a goal of coming out with a distinction to show that I could do something academic to a high level instead of struggle all the way through it like I did with my undergraduate degree. It was very touch-and-go, though. I’d get a distinction, then a merit, then back to distinction and that dream of the top grade overall started to drift away.
I was surprised when I ended the first year on a distinction but the second year was independent of that grade. Again, I was up and down with the scores and every time I ‘repaired’ something, a new ‘problem’ appeared to arise. However, a particularly strong assignment helped pick up my year two average and I went into the final submission at 88% (distinction being 85%). Whether I got a distinction overall was resting on my final assessment – 15k words of fiction.
There was a grade predictor on our student home page and I calculated what I needed to get in my final assessment to come out with a distinction overall but it advised me I needed 85% – a distinction – in that to get a distinction overall, despite being at 88% already.
I was never going to fail but whether I got a distinction or a merit overall was not a foregone conclusion. Most of my fiction had scored highly (a couple of submissions being 94%) and I’d submitted part of the assignment as a formative, for which I’d had really positive feedback so this had to bode well … but there was this nagging doubt that I might not quite make it.
The results were due today and I kept refreshing my home page to see them. Turns out I was looking at the wrong part of the page and, when I scrolled up looking for something else, I saw the final grade had actually appeared.
It confused me, though, and I have to admit that it felt like an anti-climax. The word ‘distinction’ was there in large bold letters. But it stated I only had 83% for my final submission and I still had it in my head that I had to have 85% or above because of that damn grade predictor. I was therefore convinced I was looking at the wrong thing and perhaps that was my year one grade showing instead. It was correct, though, and clearly the grade predictor was wrong. Thing is, disappointment had then set in. Firstly, it was disbelief that I had really received the distinction. Then it was: why only 83% for that piece of fiction when I’d had 94% previously? How had I fallen a full 11%?
I know, I know… I shouldn’t focus on the negative but, because of the grade predicator, I was so confused by my score and could only focus on the fact I’d dropped marks and got a merit for my final submission without it really registering I’d still received a distinction overall.
It still hasn’t sunk in that I have actually achieved what I set out to do; putting my study demons to bed. I might treat myself tonight by not working for a change! Don’t judge me but I’ve already eaten tomorrow’s advent calendar chocolate as a congratulations treat! And I’ll have a very large piece of cake when I go out for the day tomorrow with my writing friend, Sharon Booth. It may sink in then. Also, I’d just spotted the result and then had to pick up the munchkin from school to take her to her first piano exam so I was a bit distracted thinking about her and whether she would be nervous or not. It will sink in. Soon.
I’d like to thank everyone who has supported, encouraged and believed in me but the biggest thank you of all has to go to my tutor group. Tracy, Mandy, Janet, Georgia, Angie and David – your feedback and friendship has been invaluable. I look forward to watching you all publish your first novels! You are all super talented writers and deserve to have success with your writing.