When I was 23, I moved to Australia to live with my now-husband. It was the place where so much of my life fell into place, including having my first novel published. While I was there, and learning the ways of being a real published writer, I met a group of women, all of whom had the same goal as I did. Meeting up with them and discussing writerly concerns was a great experience for me, and I’m so thrilled to be teaming up with them all again to celebrate the release of two of their new novels.
Natasha Lester’s third novel – A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald – is the story of a strong-willed young woman who is determined to become doctor in 1920s New York, when such things were just not done. Sara Foster’s new book – All That Is Lost Between Us – is an exciting new thriller with a heroine with her own passion, for cross-country running.
Although running long distances has never been my forte, we all have things that inspire us to be better versions of ourselves. For this blog post, my writer friends and I will explore books that inspired us. There are so many I could write about here, from Sylvia Plath (who Annabel has written a beautiful blog post about here) to Margaret Atwood or Donna Tartt. If you want to be a writer, one of the pieces of advice you always get given is to read widely, and I would concur with that, both because it helps you learn the craft, and because seeing other people be successful makes you want to be better.
But this post, and the novels written by Natasha Lester and Sara Foster, are about people who have been inspired to achieve their goals, whatever they are. And for me, the drive to continue flogging that horse even when all seems lost doesn’t always come from books. It comes from the people around me.
When I first moved to Australia, I was fresh out of university. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted a life that was dictated by me, that was free of the constraints of a normal job: I wanted to do something I loved. And I did love writing. I’d always done it, and I always wanted to. When I told people, they’d often suggest that I waited until I was older, to ‘get a real job first’. That never made sense to me: surely it was best to try to do what I really wanted first, while I still had the energy and drive? If it didn’t work out, that was the time to try something else.
Still, I was unsure of myself and my abilities, and it wasn’t always easy to motivate myself. What if I’m not good enough? I wondered. What if writing is some innate talent that I simply do not have?
I kept going, always looking for inspiration in books and from other writers. Sometimes, you can’t predict where inspiration is going to come from. My first job when I moved to Australia was at Kidogo Arthouse, a gallery on the beach. For a girl freshly arrived from rainy Manchester, it was like a dream come true. It was run by a woman called Joanna Robertson, who has more energy than anyone I’ve ever met. In Joanna’s eyes, nothing was impossible.
On my very first day, she came bustling into the gallery, eyes bright.
“Richard Branson is coming to Perth tomorrow,” she said. “We need to get him down to the gallery.”
My mouth fell open. I wanted to tell her that I was pretty sure his schedule would have been tied up months ago, that it was unlikely he would have time to visit our gallery, which was a small (incredibly beautiful) limestone building on the beach. I didn’t, because Joanna was my boss, and it was my first day. Before I had a chance to, she’d carried on talking, about the sunset cocktail evening we could host for him, with canapes and opportunities for him to meet the talented Aboriginal artists who worked with us. I closed my mouth. She’d sold it to me. It sounded amazing, and I started to feel her enthusiasm infect me.
Once she’d left, my doubts started creeping back in. What was I going to do? Joanna was expecting Richard Branson: I was going to end up the new girl who had failed to deliver him. I knew she’d be back soon, so I picked up the phone and started googling. I rang the Virgin Switchboard in London, and – incredibly – was put through to Richard Branson’s PA. The call went to voicemail, and I left a message, trying to sell the cocktail/sunset/beach/artists combo in the same way Joanna had. Unbelievably, I heard back from her. “It sounds amazing,” she said. “Richard would have loved it. If Fremantle was closer to the city, we might have been able to squeeze it in.”
After I put the phone down, I sat in the cool quiet of the gallery in stunned amazement. I’d just spoken to Richard Branson’s PA. If Fremantle hadn’t been a 45 minute drive from Perth city, Richard Branson might actually have come here. The next day, he kitesurfed onto a beach close to the city to support a Cancer charity.
When I told Joanna, she didn’t seem surprised. She was bemused by my incredulity. “You never know what will happen until you ask,” she said.
In the next six months of working for Joanna, I saw her make impossible things happen on a regular basis. She got funding for Aboriginal artists to study at the gallery and get art qualifications. She hosted a group of politicians to launch a government arts manifesto in the gallery. When she’d taken on the gallery, it was a dilapidated building on the waterfront: now, it was a gallery space which taught adults and children. Weddings were held there. She was working on a scholarship scheme, raising funding from the movers and shakers of Perth society. After I left, she set up a hugely successful pop-up bar.
Working for Joanna was a rollercoaster, and it taught me so much. About how passion and enthusiasm can get you so far. It made me look at what I was trying to achieve – to make writing my career – and see it as achievable. That with hard work and a positive attitude, anything is possible. I will always be grateful to her for that.
Have you ever had a boss like this? Or anyone else in your life you find inspirational?
You can read the others’ recommendations of inspirational books on their blogs:
Sara Foster talks about a two books that changed her life for two very different reasons…
Natasha Lester declares her love of Jane Eyre
Annabel Smith discussed my all-time favourite author Sylvia Plath
Amanda Curtin explores a series of books by her favourite childhood author Eleanor Alice Burford Hibbert
Yvette Walker tells us about her love of Graham Greene
Dawn Barker tells the story of Iain Banks and her favourite book The Wasp Factory