“Is it autobiographical?”

So let me tell you about writing my first novel, ‘How to Make Your Heart Sing’.

When I began writing this story, I had a middle-aged woman with a successful life that no longer made any sense to her, I had an outline of possible locations and I had the first few pages of what eventually became Chapter 12: the little crooked house and the orchard. I thought I was writing a short story about Lucy, a big-city woman in search of a new life who, devastated from all that had gone wrong, found refuge and the proverbial new lease of life in a semi-rural setting surrounded by apple trees. Well. It didn’t quite turn out that way!

For me, writing is such an amazingly organic process, I never know where the story will take me. The character of Lucy very quickly took on a life of her own; I began to see things through her eyes when I was ‘in’ the story. At the same time, as the first draft took shape, Lucy started to experience the feelings and emotions that had, at one time or another, been active in my own life, and expressed them in her own unfolding story.

Does that mean it’s autobiographical? Was I ever married to a semi-famous jazz musician, did I ever live in a villa in London’s leafy suburbs, did I ever have twins or work as an artist’s agent in Scandinavia? Sadly (or luckily), no. Do I know what it feels like to stay with someone for the sake of ‘family’? Do I know loneliness? Do I know about sidelining myself to accommodate others? Do I know how unbelievably scary it is to leave all known parameters behind and start over in midlife? Too damn right I do! And do I know what it’s like when the new life you’ve banked all your hopes and expectations on turns out to be more of the same old mess, just in a new setting? Of course I do, several times over…

Things have a funny way of coming together, in life as well as in writing. I think that Lucy and I did a bit of growing up together over the years it took me to finish this novel. We’re both of us quite happy with the respective places we now find ourselves in – things are working out well, after the initial chaos and confusion!

And finally: I wanted this novel to be optimistic and hopeful, a story that gives courage in a “yes I damn well can!!” sort of a way. I wanted to remind us that change isn’t linear, that it’s a messy, lengthy, gut-churning process that affects every aspect of one’s life. And that, if we have the courage to run with it, we’ll come out stronger and much more authentic, and we’ll know how to make our heart sing…

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