My Star Guest this week is a former student of mine, Sheila Wood. Sheila is a keen writer, and actress.
I asked Sheila to tell us a bit about herself.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I started writing little poems when I was five and my mother sent them in to a local newspaper that had a children’s page. They always printed them. It then became a regular thing. I would write a poem, usually about my pets, or family. I still have the cuttings and they make me laugh. Poetry has always figured strongly with me. If I get upset, or if something has had a profound effect on me I tend to write it down in poetry. I never saw myself as a writer though. From the age of seven when my parents took me to see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the Cinema, I wanted to be a musical comedy star! In between writing poetry, I have always loved writing short stories and have had several published in magazines and newspapers, together with numerous “letters to the editor.”
I tend to get on my soap box quite often and write letters! I did write a series of children’s stories which my brother in law illustrated for me but had no success with publishing them. When I read them now after attending the creative writing classes I realise they were not very good! However, my grandchildren like listening to the stories so it was worthwhile and they are on my long list of things to re-do. Last year I was runner up in a “Last Line” competition in Writing Magazine which gave me encouragement to enter more. Now, thanks to what I have learned from you Karen, I am revising short stories to send off to magazines. The courses have inspired me so much and I have learned a great deal about the way I write and how to improve. I feel really sad when the courses come to an end as I gain so much from them and feel I still have a lot to learn.
Thank you, Sheila. I'm glad you found the courses helpful. :)
Have any authors inspired you?
I love the Bronte’s work. When I was eleven I read Jane Eyre. My paper pack penguin book is dog-eared and stained, yet I get it off the shelf at least once a year and read it again. I have a friend who I went to school with who is always sending me books on the Bronte family. I think I must have one of the largest collections, including a beautiful very old hardbound set of all their novels. I enjoy Joanna Trollope’s books, probably because I like drawing from family experiences when I write, and Maeve Binchy too. I recently read “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce and want to read more of her books. I thought it was brilliant. It made me laugh and cry! If I want a good thriller to take on holiday with me I usually read a Harlan Coben book. Much of my writing is inspired by my family and real life incidents and I write about them all the time both in stories and in poems. My favourite is the piece I wrote about my father called “Lazybones”.
We all loved "Lazybones", it brought tears to my eyes. I hope you don't mind but I'm going to paste it here so others can read it.
The years roll away as I recall his black, curly hair and smiling face, eyes full of adoration behind the horn rimmed spectacles. He holds me close and the soft, lilting voice croons “Lazy bones, sleepin’ in the sun, how you ‘spect to get your day’s work done?” He rocks me gently in his arms.
Was I transported by the sound of his voice, the melody or just the experience of being rocked as I drifted off to sleep? Again and again I would plead “Sing Lazy Bones, Daddy”. No one else could sing it like him. I remember when I was five and he was in hospital, an uncle sang it to me, a strange, harsh sound that caused me to cry for him to stop and call out for my father. That night I couldn’t sleep and I ached for his rocking arms, his voice and for the song I loved.
Thirty years later, I watched him rock my twelve-month-old daughter in his arms as he sang the words, gazing down at her with so much love in his eyes. As usual she would try to grab his spectacles, but soon inevitably the long, black eyelashes drooped and she would be asleep on his chest. Over the years we would both sing ‘Lazy Bones’ to her and when he was no longer with us, his legacy remained. My sister sang it to her children and my daughter sings it to hers. It has become known in the family quite simply as Granddad’s Lullaby.
A few months ago I watched my four-year-old granddaughter as she stood by her little brother’s cot. She was singing to him her own version of ‘Lazy Bones’. It was slightly off key; the words muddled, yet music to my ears. Her brother chuckled and her face lit up with a triumphant expression. She turned to me and proudly whispered “He likes it doesn’t he?”
If I close my eyes when it is quiet and there are no worldly distractions, I can hear my father’s voice singing ‘Lazy Bones’ and then remember how his moustache would brush against my cheek as he kissed me goodnight.
“Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory” – Percy Bysshe Shelley.
(Revised April 2014)
‘Lazy Bones’ was written in 1933. Lyrics: Johnny Mercer,
Music: Hoagy Carmichael.
It was recorded in 1933 by Paul Robeson
Do you have a special place for writing?
I have a corner of my grandson’s room where I go to write away from the living areas. If I get tired I can always lie down on his Spider Man bed and have a short nap to re-charge my batteries!
Sounds good to me!
What time of the day do you write best?
I can write at any time if the house is reasonably quiet and I have no distractions such as grandchildren running around or a husband demanding my attention! (Being hearing impaired he does need my help a great deal). Motivation to write doesn’t always come at the best time - that is the problem. So I have a little notebook and jot ideas down then wait for the house to be quiet so that I can sit at the computer and get going. I like to plot out my stories, though once I get going it tends to just flow and the plot can change! If I am honest, last thing at night is not a good idea as I never get to sleep afterwards. My brain will be racing.
What are your hobbies?
I sing and act! I have been singing since I was five and doing musical comedy shows since I was 16. I have been very fortunate and played nearly all the musical comedy leads with Wolverhampton and South Staffs Musical Comedy Companies at The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton. I have had a wonderful time. I am a bit too old now to play most parts so I do coaching for people if they want to audition for parts in productions. I also sing regularly in local day care centres, residential homes etc. and for charity. I enjoy writing silly verses/limericks …. A bit like Pam Ayres. Over the years I have written loads for people at work who were retiring, or special birthdays etc. I absolutely love Pam Ayres’ “My Husband”. You can hear it on YouTube but I have it in one of her books. So funny. I can relate to it.
What are you writing at the moment?
I am in the process of editing and re-writing my Blog that started a year ago so that it can be published on line. It is called World War One Poems Re-discovered in a Box and contains poems written by a great great aunt during the First World War. I am hoping that I can get this done and include many other of her poems which were not in the original blog. You can read it on sheilajanewood.wordpress.com.
Only this week I was contacted by a writer who saw my blog last week. He has had a biography accepted by a publisher. It is about an artist and one of my Aunt’s poems is on his gravestone. I am waiting for more information to come as I was only contacted on 24th July. I am also working on some stories started during the Creative Writing Courses which were plotted but not continued. I need to sit down and prioritise which ones to start first! I need a bit of discipline here. I would also like to go back through all my own notebooks of my poems and decide which ones I would like to publish. In addition I wrote “Recollections of a Happy Childhood” many years ago which covered my life from age five to fourteen and would like to get that into book form, just for my daughter and my grandchildren to keep. They have the draft form in a folder but it would be lovely to get it looking professional, in a proper book form.
What advice would you give to other writers?
It’s never too late to take up writing. Take a Creative Writing Course and you will learn so much. I am convinced that sharing the journey of writing with others is a huge help. Never give up. Never throw any writing away however bad you think it might be because something in that piece might be useful in another story or novel. Keep going!
THANKS KAREN FOR ALL YOU HAVE DONE FOR ME
You're welcome. Thank you for sharing your writing journey with us, Sheila. :)