This month I got the chance to interview Scottish children's author - Lorraine Johnston. I was keen to find out about her life and how libraries might have had a positive impact on her career as writer.
I lost my career in Health and Safety, when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, shortly after my 40th birthday. I explain this, not to gain any sympathy but simply to give an insight in the story behind my story. You see, M and S used to be two innocuous letters I’d hear scattered throughout conversations, without standing out as being of any significance. Ironically, now that I’ve discovered a love of writing, these two letters have changed connotation. For a very long time, hearing ‘MS’ was so depressing. Now, MS stands for ‘Manuscript’, which is so much cheerier and far more optimistic. Importantly, it fills me with hope, writing happier endings, whenever possible.
So far, I’ve published four children’s books, three of which support Scottish Charities; Later Tartan Gator, Whit of Whiteleys Wood, MacMoley Moves Home and Walter’s Wonky Web.
I worked as a children’s nanny for thirteen years, and one of the favourite things to do, was to make up stories. I would ask the children some basic questions, like ‘What and who would you like included in this story?’ The children quickly saw this as an opportunity to make this as difficult and complex as possible. Their answers included, ‘Make it about a mouse on magic roller skates and make him fly to the moon to fight jelly baby aliens!’ Another cracker was, ‘Make it about dinosaurs that fart deadly gas and poop spaghetti bolognaise, and sneeze sprinkles out of their noses’. I’m highly competitive by nature, and I always enjoyed accepting these story-telling challenges. I encouraged them to be as ridiculous and imaginative as possible. This resulted in much laughter and giggles during story times. Not the best activity to help them get to sleep at bedtime, but it was such tremendous fun and I have many wonderful memories of those shenanigans. This is what prompted two of my dear friends, shortly after my diagnosis, to suggest that I should write children’s stories. At first, I thought they were just trying to placate me, but I soon embraced the idea, and I did just that!
A firm favourite of mine is ‘Walter’s Wonky Web’ – an award-winning children’s story. The heart of this story is to encourage; showing that doing your best is always good enough! I was so pleased when Jayne Baldwin of Second Sands Publishing expressed interest in producing a second edition. I’m delighted that www.foggietoddlebooks.co.uk in Wigtown, have now published a wonderful second edition, which is for sale at all good book shops. Walter’s Wonky Web is colourfully illustrated by Jane Cornwell.
Absolutely, yes. I was a slow starter with low confidence at first, because I was often given books of a more advanced reading level than I was at. This led me to look more at the pictures than the big words and imagine what the different story scenarios were. The school librarian made better choices for me, and I remember the first proper book that I read from start to finish, with a huge sense of achievement and a new love of reading. That book was ‘Stig of the Dump’ written by Clive King.
I’ve lots of lovely memories of many different libraries. I moved a lot when I was growing up, so things often changed. Homes, schools, friends etc, but libraries always had the same elements in them which I loved. From Shawlands to Johannesburg and New Orleans, and of course my favourite; the mobile library bus that used to visit the village of Blanefield. The librarians were always so lovely and invariably encouraged me to choose the ‘right’ books for me.
When I was more mobile than I am now, I had the pleasure of running writing workshops in libraries. I often escaped to my local library in the early mornings, to write in peace and quiet; my dog Jock, is such a barker! My biggest thrill was being invited as a guest author to attend the Louisiana Book Festival, which is held in the grounds of the State Library in Baton Rouge. It was a wonderful event and remains one of my happiest memories as a writer.
I laughed a little bit at this question, when I reflected on the advice given to me ten years ago, when I first took up creative writing. I laughed because I scoffed at the advice and got a little bit annoyed at it. That advice was to ‘Just write!’. I thought that this was most unhelpful indeed, but annoyingly, it is so true! A lot of people think about writing, and they say, ‘I’d like to write a book one day’. When you ask them what writing they’ve done, they usually say ‘not much’ or ‘nothing!’ So, annoyingly, my advice is to just start. Write. Don’t over-think it. Just write. And for those people reading this and sighing; I know! I do get it. It’s very annoying. But the clue is in the name.
Right click, open a new word document and just start writing. Better still, find a quiet place, some paper and a pencil. See where your journey takes you. I did, and I’m being taken on different amazing journeys, every single day.
I’ve been writing a lot over the last couple of years. Whilst I’m not very mobile, and my hands are getting worse with painful paraesthesia, I have a fire in my belly, and I’m very motivated to be a successful writer. I must keep my metaphorical feet on the ground, as it’s a fickle and complex industry to try and get into properly, but hopefully I’ll get there one day. I’m so very lucky to have the help, support and encouragement from the amazing Lindsey Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates. Her vast knowledge and experience in the industry, together with her invaluable support, encouragement, editing notes and advice, has made me a far better writer. I have oodles of ideas for new stories, so, hopefully more books will be published in the future…