Monday, 27 May 2013

How J K Rowling Helped Me Through My Darkest Days as a Writer

I started writing books during a very difficult time in my life.

My marriage had come to a painful and traumatic end and I was single mum to a young son.

It was a very fearful time - I can remember many sleepless nights spent wondering how I was going to make ends meet and keep a roof over our heads.

I also felt like a total failure. Coming from a 'broken home' I had always vowed that I would never put any child of mine through that trauma.

Apart from my son, the only light in the darkness of those days was my writing. 

When I began working on my first novel, Sweet FA, it provided a welcome escape from the harsh realities of my life at the time.

But my writing itself was not without fear.

I had no previous experience of writing fiction.

I hadn't done any courses in creative writing.

I didn't have any contacts in the publishing world.

I wasn't a member of any writing group.

I had no idea if what I was creating was any good at all - let alone publishable.

I wrote mainly when my son was asleep and there were some nights when I would be slumped over my typewriter (I couldn't even afford a computer!) crying with exhaustion and wondering why the hell I was even bothering.

It was on those nights that one person helped urge me on and gave me just enough hope to keep me typing. 

That person was J K Rowling.

Like the rest of the world, I'd read all the stories about how Rowling had penned the first Harry Potter novel in a cafe in Edinburgh as a penniless single mum.

But, rather than merely being a heart-warming anecdote, this story became a life-line for me.

When Rowling talked about her feelings of despair as a single mum I could so relate to her experience.

And the fact that she had kept on working through her dark times; had kept the faith in her creative dream and gone on to achieve such remarkable success, formed a beacon, guiding me through my own fear and doubt.

Last week, I went up to Edinburgh and visited the cafe where J K Rowling had written that first Harry Potter book.

Having played such an important part in my own vision of hope for the future, it was extremely moving to finally actually be there.

And, in a really magical way, it proved to be a gift that kept on giving.

The past couple of months have been a bit of a tough time for me, in that I've suffered some personal loss and felt a bit demotivated work-wise.

But sitting at a table in the corner of the cafe, picturing J K Rowling writing away and conjuring up such a magical future for herself and so many readers, I felt a wave of optimism and hope wash over me.

Remembering how far I'd come since my own dark days made me feel humbled and excited. It reminded me that anything is possible if you are prepared to work hard and simply believe.

Before leaving the cafe I went into the toilets. They were covered from floor to ceiling in graffiti dedicated to J K Rowling from grateful readers.

Once again, I felt a wave of happiness and excitement. It reminded me what a privilege it is to be a writer - and how thrilling it is to be able to affect people's lives for the better with your words.

Once again, I felt J K Rowling inspiring and motivating me - and urging me on.

A bit later, I was walking past Waterstones in Edinburgh. I popped inside and headed for the Young Adult section.

When I saw my books there on the shelves it brought tears to my eyes.

All those years ago, when I'd sat hunched over my typewriter, with just my love of writing and J K Rowling's example to keep me going, I never would have dreamed that I would go on to achieve all that I have done.

And, if I can share anything at all with you to help you through your own doubt and fear, it would be this:

Sometimes, in our darkest times, we need a light to guide us. So, rather than cower in the shadows, seek out your light - whether it be in the form of another person, some words of wisdom, or God / the Universe. Let them lead you on, into your own brighter, happier future . . . 


You can find the new site here.

Fresh new posts include:

15 Things I've Learnt From 15 Years as a Writer

Dear Dare to Dream: How can I overcome my illness and become a speaker

An Exciting New Chapter for Dare to Dream

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Always Remember to Blaze a Trail

2009 was one of the worst years of my life. Or – as the Queen would put it – my annus horribilus.

My then partner had been diagnosed with cancer – a brain tumour – and told he only had months to live.

A close member of my family was being bullied at school and becoming a shadow of their former self before our eyes.

And my writing career felt dead in the water.

There were many times during that year when I felt as if I was drowning. I’m a natural born fighter but there are some times, when life throws so much crap at you, that you just can’t see a way out.

I remember one day, after I’d burnt some toast, sinking to the kitchen floor and crying for about an hour.

I tried so hard to maintain a strong and bright exterior to the outside world but inside, I could feel myself slipping away.

It’s at times like these that you need an intervention. You need someone to step in and shine a light on your darkness.

For me, it came in the form of a conversation with a friend.

It was one of those rich, late night conversations in which you really connect with another human soul. My friend was a fellow writer, and from a similar background, growing up on a London council estate. He’d obviously seen that I was drowning and so he set about throwing me a life line made up of his words – it definitely helped that he was a poet!

Amongst many other things, he told me that he saw me as being just like a shooting star and that I mustn’t ever stop blazing a trail.

For most of that year I’d felt more like one of those dud home fireworks that splutters and fizzles out to disappointed sighs. It felt incomprehensible that he should see me in this way.

But his words lodged in my brain – and gave me something to cling to.

I went home emboldened.

My partner wasn’t going to die.

My family member wasn’t going to be bullied any more.

And I was going to write another book – and publish it myself.

As I knew that it would be all too easy for me to slip back into my feelings of depression, I got a shooting star tattooed on my wrist as a constant reminder.

My Shooting Star Tattoo

And from that moment on, before I said or did anything, I'd think to myself, what would a person who's just like a shooting star do? How can I blaze a trail?

My partner ended up defying the doctors and surviving. Sadly, we broke up, but we remain best friends.

I helped my family member who was being bullied move to a new school and they are now back to their happy, carefree self, with a wide group of new friends.

The book I wrote and self-published went on to win a national award. (I couldn’t help smiling when I saw that the award itself was star-shaped.)

The book then went to auction and the publishers I signed up with said how much they loved my star tattoo – and could they incorporate it into my name on my book covers?

Fast forward to last Thursday, when I had a launch party for my new novel, Finding Cherokee Brown – my second novel with that publisher.

As I stood there about to give a reading from the book, I don’t think I’ve ever felt happier.

Reading at my Book Launch

There was my ex-boyfriend, smiling and cancer-free. There were the posters of the book with the stars designed into my name. There were my closest friends – my rocks during that terrible time. And there were so many other, newer friends, who didn’t even know me back in those dark days.

And here I was, about to read from a book I’d written about bullying – inspired by what we’d been through during that dark time.

It was such an important lesson in never giving up, no matter how hard things get.

And, echoing around my head were my friend’s words – said to me, but applicable to everyone:

‘You’re a just like a shooting star – you mustn’t ever stop blazing a trail.’


You can find the new site here.

Fresh new posts include:

15 Things I've Learnt From 15 Years as a Writer

Dear Dare to Dream: How can I overcome my illness and become a speaker

An Exciting New Chapter for Dare to Dream

Monday, 4 March 2013

Finding Cherokee Brown

Three years ago I had a dream.

Somebody close to me was having their previously happy life ruined by mindless bullies. Within months they’d become a withdrawn shadow of their former self – attempts to fight back had failed and the teachers at the school concerned claimed to be powerless to act.

This wasn’t the first person I’ve known to have suffered at the hands of bullies – as a life coach, I’ve seen numerous clients still suffering from self esteem issues years after childhood abuse.

I know all of the arguments about bullying being an essential part of growing up – a rite of passage necessary to toughen kids up and a valuable life lesson. A life lesson in what though? That cruelty is something that just has to be accepted? Is this really all that we aspire to as a so-called civilised society?

According to a UK government report, 46% of all young people will be bullied at some point in their life. 38.4% of young people were victims of cyber bullying last year. 28% of young people feel unable to tell anyone and so, suffer alone.

Three years ago, fired up by fury that bullying should still be such a prevalent and accepted part of our culture, I had a dream that I would write a novel challenging this. A novel about someone determined to find the courage to fight back against her bullies and hopefully inspire and uplift other victims. A novel that would throw a spotlight on the shortcomings of our education system when it comes to bullying, and our failure as adults to protect our kids from this kind of abuse.

Today, my dream has come true, and my novel, Finding Cherokee Brown, has been published. I usually find it painfully difficult to promote my own books, but with this one I have to swallow my embarrassment and become a shameless plugger if it is to reach the people I wrote it for and if its message is to be heard. With modern publishing being what it is – and with me not being a reality TV star / footballer’s wife / Middleton sister – I have no mega-buck marketing budget.. All I have is my dream, and the power of word-of-mouth.

So, take a read of the reviews below, and if you like what you see, and if you feel just as passionately as I do about bullying, then please buy a copy – and when you’ve read it, please pass it on to somebody you feel might benefit from the book’s message.

Some people say that bullying is an inevitable aspect of human nature. My response is that actually love is the only ‘inevitable’ aspect of the human condition. Bullying, like anger, hatred and fear, is only ever learned. And it can be unlearned too – if enough of us say, ‘no more’. That is my dream today – that enough of us start saying no to bullying, wherever it takes place – be it in schools, the workplace or relationships.

As the strapline for Finding Cherokee Brown says – everything changes when you dare to dream’.

Early Reviews for Finding Cherokee Brown

‘Siobhan Curham has written a great book that deals with bullying, identity and being brave enough to be yourself. . . This is a lovely story that had me rooting for Cherokee all the way . . . and her journey of self-discovery is delightfully written.’ The Bookseller

'Finding Cherokee Brown is young adult writing at its best. Dealing with difficult themes and real teenage problems, it offers an inspirational and hopeful message. A must read.' We Love This Book

‘I loved Cherokee as a character. Her voice and her plight drew me in from pretty much the first page. She is immediately likeable, and as a self-depreciating underdog, she is incredibly easy to root for. Not all authors can successfully pull off a witty, fast-talking stream of teenage girl monologue, but Siobhan Curham manages to do so in style. . . The strong writing and characters combine to form a mixture that feels meaningful, and had me emotionally engaged with the story throughout . . .The original narrative elements simply add to the enjoyment of the reading experience. The vividness of Cherokee's voice brought to mind that of Lennie from The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.’ The Book Bag

‘A tightly woven, entertaining and moving story . . . Curham has met the challenge she outlines in a letter to the reader – Cherokee Brown is an ‘inspirational, interesting heroine’, a victim of bullying, ‘determined to fight back in her own original way…’ She is funny, resilient, but by no means perfect. She is never presumptuous, and always willing to fight back . . . A pleasure to read.’ The Nocturnal Reader

‘Anyone who is being bullied, has been bullied in the past, or is bullying someone should read this book. Cherokee is a very inspirational character and the book itself carries a powerful message. Overall, I loved this book! It is funny, poignant and really makes you think. 5/5!’ The Mile Long Bookshelf

‘I thoroughly enjoyed Siobhan Curham's debut 'Dear Dylan' which was published last year, so I've been looking forward to reading more from her ever since.  'Finding Cherokee Brown' is another great title which I read in one sitting because it was such a brilliant story. It centres on fifteen year old Claire Weeks who decides that she is going to write a story about her life after finding an old copy of a book called 'So you want to write a novel?'.  What starts off as an attempt to escape from her day to day life, soon turns into something even more powerful and life changing when she discovers a huge family secret which makes her question everything she thought she knew about herself. Claire aka Cherokee was a great main character.  Curham can really write people who you warm to instantly and feel enormous empathy for.  She has several issues to deal with in the book, one being the fact that she is bullied at her school.  This is something that a lot of people have faced at one point or another in their lives and I enjoyed seeing her finally decide to fight back and not let the bullies get away with it.  I thought it was interesting that one of her teachers fails to deal with the teens who are taunting her.  It shows that even adults sometimes suffer confidence issues, feel powerless and cannot stand up against other people. Claire feels like she doesn't fit in with her family, since her mother remarried and had twins.  Throughout the book she gradually learns that everyone has the power to change their own life and that wonderful things can happen when you take control of your own destiny.  
Anybody being bullied or bullying others should read this book because it features a truly inspirational heroine and has a powerful message to convey about the power of both the written and spoken word.  It is also moving, poignant and funny and is another great title from a fantastic author.’ A Dream of Books


You can find the new site here.

Fresh new posts include:

15 Things I've Learnt From 15 Years as a Writer

Dear Dare to Dream: How can I overcome my illness and become a speaker

An Exciting New Chapter for Dare to Dream