In the About Me section of LadyNicci.com I describe my earliest memory of writing. Or at least the evidence I have found of this writing. I discovered it in an old diary, written in green marker. It read: “I am six and a half. My brother is four. It is Easter. We got Easter Eggs.”
Today is also Easter. And today, I also got Easter Eggs. And while munching through my Cadbury’s chocolate, I’ve been thinking about my relationship with the written word.
The first time I can remember being read to, was when I was three, nearly four. I’d fallen against our open fire grate and my hand stuck to it a little. The pain was intense and I cried for hours. When my Dad got home from work, he tried to comfort me by reading a book with me on his lap. I wanted to hear the story but the burn was so sore, I couldn’t help but whimper in between pages. He told me I had to stop crying if I wanted to hear the story. And the book won out.
A few years later, I sat beside my Dad, only this time I was reading the Wizard of Oz to him. The scarecrow wanted a brain. The tin man wanted a heart. And the lion wanted porridge.
“Courage,” my Dad corrected.
“Porridge,” I insisted.
Laughing, my Dad kindly explained that the word was courage. No. Flippin. Way. The word was porridge, it looked like porridge, it sounded like porridge and who didn’t want a bit of porridge? Obviously the lion was hungry? Stubbornly I refused to acknowledge the correct word and continued to read the word as porridge for years after.
I was always a bit stubborn when it came to books. My best friend Caroline was an avid reader. One day she presented a Sweet Valley High book. It looked good on the outside, but when I opened it and flicked through I made a horrible discovery. No. Pictures.
“I’m not reading it,” I said.
“But it’s really good,” proffered my more educated friend.
“Don’t care, no pictures.”
Perhaps spurred on by Caroline’s pointing out of my ignorance, I brought the book home, read it and practically soared with the entertainment of it. It was fantastic! So long comics and Ladybird books; I was a grown up reader now.
Living in the country, we read a lot. We didn’t have groups of friends on street corners, or computers or even good TV. The Babysitters Club was a favourite. And then we discovered Judy Blume.
Good Jesus Judy Blume. Her books were passed round like golden tickets to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Only with Judy, you gained a golden ticket to LIFE! Periods, boys, first kisses; all the real stuff you wanted to know about but no one knew about and you could never ask. I read everything I could get my hands on from Judy and came out the other side a much more educated tweenager.
Around this age, I began to try writing myself. I enjoyed making up stories, writing them down and seeing how they might end. It was something to do to pass the time. I was conscientious and always finished them. I entered a writing competition run by An Post and was thrilled to come runner up, considering the competition was national. The prize was an illuminous yellow t-shirt with a green crocodile on it. This shirt could stop traffic. And it did. For a long time. I never took it off. I was just so bloody proud of myself.
Each week in both primary and secondary school we were tasked with an essay to complete in some form. While other students moaned, inside I cried a little ‘yes’. I hope I didn’t outwardly express it. (No wonder I wasn’t popular.)
Towards the end of first year, I wrote a story about a ghost on a bus. It was probably quite advanced for my age and no doubt was inspired by one of my Grandad’s famous ghost stories. When my teacher handed back the corrected copies I was horrified to find half the story was missing.
‘Miss, where’s the rest of it?’ I asked. She gave me the keys to her car and I found the two pages, lodged between the door and the ground. It was covered in muck. But it was still marked ‘A.’ I dusted down the pages and rewrote the story onto fresh paper. It won essay of the year at the school awards that year. Muck brings luck. Remember that.
My first published piece was aged 14 in the youth section of the RTE Guide. Again, it was a ghost story. The librarian in my local library recognised me. I was truly, a literary star.
In my teenage years, there were a few other writing achievements – a star letter published in the RSPCA’s children’s magazine, a runner up in a local writing competition, a runner up in a written radio ad competition. The best competition I won however was to score the same brilliant English teacher for the majority of secondary life. A lover of literature, she had us workshopping before workshopping was even a thing.
We’d take each other’s stories and critique in small groups in class. She made me want to write better and more interesting pieces. Mrs McCartan believed in me and was the most encouraging of all my teachers. It was during these years that I decided to pursue journalism.
Ah journalism. Great course. Interesting people. A whole new skill set. I can still half write / half shorthand. But it was the end of any creative writing for about a decade. Sure I could write a news story, conduct an interview, write a feature even, but turning writing into a business and a way of making a living, sucked every creative juice out of my malnourished college body.
In a bid to go return to a love for writing I joined the Irish Writer’s Centre when I had settled in full time work. Never did I feel so in tune with a group of people. We’d go through class, discussing this author and that, reading old and new pieces, picking out writing we had an affinity with. There were comedians, fantasy writers, housewives, school teachers, book agents in the class; a whole mix of people who were interested in the written word.
After class, we’d go to different bars in Dublin, buying pitchers of beer and sitting around discussing Kafka and Hemingway. It was clear I should have done an arts degree. I thrived on the conversation and the sharing of minds. It gave me a new lease of writing life.
In 2013 I attended TBEX, (Travel Bloggers Exchange) for my job in hospitality and got inspired by the writers I met there. Within days I had set up my LadyNicci blog and began to post regularly.
Being a blogger is a concept you have to buy into. I was totally unaware of the world until the conference. It’s all about niche. You have to find what you like to write about, carve out a voice and put yourself out there. Regularly.
It took me a while to establish what I liked to write about. I just wasn’t sure. I didn’t want it to be egotistical and narcissistic. I wanted it to be interesting. And like all my previous writing, I wanted it to be honest. Luckily for me I guess, I got pregnant. And when I wrote about my experiences there, I gained a whole heap of new followers.
2015 has been very busy, very productive and very positive. I transferred my blog onto a website, which gives me more control and a style I am happy with. I guest blogged on www.herfamily.ie which brought a ton of new traffic and gave me confidence in my writing style. A piece I had been working on for months was accepted and published by Irishcentral.com. And I joined the Irish Parenting Bloggers group, where I have learned all about the blogging world and shared with their experiences of writing about being a parent.
In the background to all this, I am researching the historical fiction novel, I decided to write in February this year. I have the outline done and am reading everything I can get my hands on about the era I am writing about. The research is taking longer than I expected, but this is also because I am enjoying it so much.
I keep finding small references from previous years that have been pointing towards this book I am beginning to write. Scraps of articles I’ve kept. Books people have given me. Snippets of conversation that I’ve remembered and will appear in some way in the piece of fiction I hope to create.
For the first time in a long time I feel I have gotten back to where I need to be and to where I set out to be. The young girl attempting to read and insisting that a word was really a different word because that’s how it felt it should be. The young girl who spent time writing letters and stories and putting those pieces out to the big bad world and surprisingly being rewarded for them. It is Easter. I got Easter Eggs. And I’m still writing. Who would of thunk?