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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

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Home Sweet Home

Melinda McNicholas on how she was inspired to write her first book

I HAVE always enjoyed writing. I remember as a teenager watching Patricia Routledge performing the Alan Bennett monologue – ‘A Woman of no Importance’ on TV. This inspired me to write my first monologue and I forced my Mam and Dad to watch my performance in our front room using my Nana’s old hand bag as a prop.

The writings of Alan Bennett have continued to be an inspiration to me and I was lucky enough to meet the man himself when I was at drama school in London.

At school, in terms of results, I didn’t do well. I was a reluctant reader with a ‘butterfly mind’. My dad, Jack Coan, a Whitehaven lad, was a primary head teacher in Whitehaven and his passion had always been English, especially poetry. Both my parents were heavily involved in local amateur dramatics for as long as I could remember. My parents were, and remain a huge inspiration is terms of their positivity, encouragement and an ‘anything is possible’ mentality.

Inspiration is a wonderful thing. It can appear from nowhere and manifest itself in so many creative ways.

When Cumbria was affected by the ‘Biblical’ floods almost a year ago, and our home flooded, this became a huge source of inspiration to me in so many ways.

On a practical level, we lost many of our possessions. On a personal level, we lost our home and community as we had known it.

In the days following the floods, we put most of our remaining possessions into storage, not knowing when we would be re-united with the things that had made our house our home.

I have two children: Jack, nine, and Lilly, six. They coped admirably with the whole situation. They did however find it difficult to comprehend why we couldn’t return home as their upstairs bedrooms were exactly as they had been left. There was a sense of ‘Great Expectations’ with the gathering cobwebs in the uninhabited rooms.

It was while we were in our rented accommodation that I had time to reflect on the events which had brought us here. Maybe it is because of the children, but I soon learned that you can’t dwell on the negative. If my home had been burgled, if people had deliberately caused the damage that the floods had, then I would have been justified in being annoyed. But it was an accident and there was no-one to be annoyed with. Somewhat surprisingly, we didn’t miss any of the possessions we had put into storage. The downstairs contents we had lost were mostly replaceable and we soon realised that they were not really important – we could live without them. It was the things that money couldn’t buy which were important. And we hadn’t lost any of those.

The evenings were beginning to get lighter and the daffodil shoots were starting to break through the ground. In one particular conversation, I found myself saying that the town was only asleep and it would wake up again. It was this conversation which inspired me to write the story: The Town That Went To Sleep.

Following this conversation, I had an overwhelming urge to write the sentence down. Once I typed the sentence into my laptop, the rest of the story poured out. It took no more than two hours to complete it. I left it for the rest of the day and returned to it the following day to make final alterations. At first, I found it very difficult and emotional to read it. When I read it to a few friends, they had the same reaction. It was then that I knew I wanted to publish it.

Although I have written many things, (I always have a number of notebooks on the go) I have never had any desire to publish anything. My writing has usually been reflective thoughts of memorable times and purely for personal use. How was I going to publish my book?

A few weeks earlier, I had bought a copy of the Cockermouth flood book. I got the details of the publisher from the back cover and emailed David Ramshaw explaining that I had written a book and wondered if he would publish it. After forwarding a copy of the story, he replied saying that he could.

I asked my friend, neighbour and colleague, Gemma Davies (who was also flooded out) to produce the illustrations.

Gemma and I discussed the style of the illustrations. We annotated the story and decided on the format for each one.

The illustrations obviously took much longer to create than the writing of the story. There were so many different artistic techniques used to create them. They were beautiful and complemented the story perfectly.

The ‘book’ was then sent to the publisher to be put together in order to proof read. This process was tedious and took a few weeks.

In June, once the final proof read was complete, the printing began and within two weeks, copies of my first book landed on my doorstep.

The book has been very well received in Cockermouth and the surrounding area. I have given a number of readings in The New Bookshop in Cockermouth and The Bluebell Bookshop in Penrith.

Gemma and I both teach at St Joseph’s Catholic Business and Enterprise College in Workington, as Drama/English and Art teachers. The book is a great demonstration of Business and Enterprise capabilities and hopefully also a source of inspiration to our students showing that they really can achieve things if they put their mind to it. In my role of director of specialism, I have also produced a series of teaching resources for use in primary schools and these are also proving popular.

At the moment I have no intention to publish anything else. However, when I get a minute, I might dig out my old diaries and note books and see what I can cobble together. In the meantime, I can enjoy being back home surrounded by the things that are important to me. The charity shops are also benefitting from all the things we put into storage only to realise that they really weren’t important. I am strongly considering wrapping up the remaining boxes in Christmas paper and saving them for Christmas morning.

There’s no place like home!

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