Writing has always been a great hunger for me but for many years, I never wrote a word because I thought I was not capable. And in some ways I wasn’t. Having excelled as a child in school at composition, everyone had high expectations of me becoming a writer or a journalist, and at the tender age of fifteen, I had begun handwriting what I hoped would be an epic historical novel. Unfortunately for me, I became involved with a very controlling man for almost ten years and just like many controlling relationships it stripped me of all my confidence and whilst he paid lip service to encouraging me to write, every spare moment I have had to be spent with him. By the time the relationship had ended, I had lost all my ambitions, aspirations and desires.
Recovering from this, I met another man and found some self-worth, but the damage was done, and I was a broken person. I tried to pick up my writing again, and my lovely man encouraged me, buying me a word processor so I could write the book I’d always wanted to write. I slipped into needless insecurity and I found solace in the bottle which eventually led me to lose everything I had gained from escaping that first marriage. Eventually after nine years of enduring my drinking, my wonderful husband had enough, and I was left to pull myself together in a hostel with the three children I had from both marriages. And I did it the only way I knew how. I drank.
After enduring my drinking for almost a year, I finally decided to do something about it and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. But i carried on drinking whilst in between bouts of drinking. It took me awhile to understand that I was never going to be able to process alcohol like normal people.
And so I got a sponsor, determined to change the person that drank. As recovery took its beautiful toll on me, I got well. Banished resentments and got on with my life, became the best mum I could be, put my kids first for a change and decided I would do something that would better their lives as well as mine. It was my amends to them. My two youngest ones don’t remember me ever being drunk, but my oldest son does, and the sad part is, he thought that was normal, being the son of an alcoholic parents. Of course he knows today that is not so, and I know he is proud of me today, because he’s told me so.
That was almost twenty years ago, and it was in those early days of recovering from the illness of alcoholism and the trauma of my past, I found my brain and intellect was restoring itself back to some semblance of health. I wanted to do something that would make me feel better about myself as well as help others so I made my poor suffering parents proud by training to be a nurse, though they were a little confused as to why I chose to go into mental health nursing! They imagined me as some Florence Nightingale I think, floating around a ward at night comforting the dying. But still, I know that I can be proud that I was sober when my parents died and was able to be there for them.
And then came the writing. Whilst I was at university, in early my forties, learning about computers as well as nursing, I decided I was in that space where I could write a novel. And so that’s when it all started. And I did that as well as studying for my nursing qualification.
The book, though, wasn’t quite ready when I had got my first nursing job. It took another four years for me to put it out there, but not quite in the same format as it is today. I first published Sons of the Wolf with an assisted publisher and a few years later I wanted to change the cover and revise the editing. That first edition cost me a lot of money and I never recouped it in sales, so I took back the files from them, and unpublished it, so to speak so I could republish it in my own imprint for a fraction of the price it cost me the first time around. I would never have been able to publish the second one at that cost so it was a better way to go for me, and I wished I’d done so with the first one.
But what an amazing feeling that eleven years into my recovery I was able to realise my dream of publishing the book I’d always wanted to. It wasn’t the same book I’d started out writing, all those years ago when I was a teenager. But it was the book I was meant to write, and I know that there is an awful lot of me in that book, in my characters, one in particular, but I won’t mention who it is. I’ll let you guess.
And so by 2016 I have two self-published books, both having won IndieBRAG medallions and a few other awards. I’m also a senior nurse practitioner now, as well as an author of historical fiction. Not a bad achievement considering I come from a background of Anorexia, self-harm, and Alcoholism.
But writing historical novels hasn’t been easy – I still suffer with something I’ve always suffered with, imposter syndrome. I even thought that I wasn’t a real alcoholic if my story wasn’t as bad as others. It’s the same with my writing. Because I self-publish and am not with a publishing house, I often think I can’t be a real author. And I struggle with telling people that I have books out there because I still wrestle with the idea that I’m not good enough, that I am less-than – or that they might read them and think they’re rubbish.
Today, a few more years on, I know that as I constantly work to improve my craft by learning what I can from some of my fellow writers and those who’ve been in the industry a long time, I increase my confidence. And I know that if I can’t believe in myself, I can’t expect others too. And part of what gives me that feeling of comfortability now is my involvement in re-enactment. Since I began writing, I have been a member of Regia Anglorum Reenactment Society. It was a difficult decision for me as someone who has always been painfully self-obsessed and worried about what others think of me, to join something like this, but I did, because I wanted to be able to make my books as accurate and authentic as they could be. But joining the society was probably the best thing I could have ever done for my writing and I have met some really lovely people through it. The society has a huge following, and so many of the reenactors are so skilled at what they do, I am often in awe of them. Whenever I get a comment from readers in reviews that reflects the fact that I have this connection to the society, it makes me so happy to think that this is all down to the fact that Regia has been so useful for me.
Moving on and I am still working on the third book in the series after The Wolf Banner, Wolf’s Bane. Its been a hard slog, because I don’t write quickly and there is always something to research on whenever I write. I have been writing this one for about four-five years on and off. Three years ago, I lost 20,000 words of it when my computer crashed and it took me about a year to get back into it. Last year it was put on hold, more so because I was involved in Historical Writers Forum first anthology called Hauntings. And because I still nurse in a busy A&E in the heart of Sussex, I don’t get as much time to devote to this writing lark as I would like.
However, things are getting better. I am making more time. I’m doing Zoom talks with my fellow writers in the HWF, and I have this year got off to a fantastic start having just been signed up to Pen and Sword Books to write two historical biographies on Harold Godwinson and Edmund Ironside. At last a publishing deal! What a feeling! I’m so grateful that I have been given this opportunity.
But it hasn’t always been a straight road, the path has definitely gone off track along the way a few times, and I’m not always as serene and as spiritual as I would like to be. I often tell myself that we are all a work in progress, and that emotional and spiritual growth does not often come without pain. So it is that I am trudging the road to happy destiny and am one fully signed up member of the human race.
Today I am grateful for my experiences, for the recovery and for the achievements and the knowledge that it can only get better from here on. Grateful today I have a purpose, a sense of belonging and that I care less about what people think of me and more of what I can do to make a difference to people’s lives, whether it be to help them as a nurse or a fellow addict, or to bring a bit sunshine into their lives with my writing. And if anyone out there thinking their life is hopeless, reads this and is inspired in anyway, then I have made a difference, however small and that keeps me on track knowing I can do more in life if I just don’t pick up a drink one day at a time.
For me, if I didn’t have my recovery programme, my books and writing, I wouldn’t have what I have today. My friends and family are proud of me – so what more could I ever ask for?
10 thoughts on “From the Bottle to the Battlefield: A Writers Story”
It’s so brave of you to share your story! You are such an inspiration. 💕
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You’re so kind my dear friend.
Reblogged this on A Sweet Disorder and commented:
Proud to call the author one of my friends.
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Likewise! And thank you so much for sharing my post.
Outstanding, ma’am. The Twelve Steps saved my life, too, by giving me a framework for living that worked.
They also freed me from many of the lies I told myself, chief among them “Unless I am a successful writer, I am worthless.” It was no less destructive than the other primary lie, “Unless someone loves me, I am unlovable.”
Once I kicked both of those lies to the curb, my life improved immensely.
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Thank you for your lovely kind words, Roy. So pleased you have found recovery too.
Paula I have worked in the nursing world with you for years. I knew you loved writing and involved in other activists. But I never knew you were so talented. Telling story will be an inspiration to others.
Be proud. I am proud of you my friend x
Some amazing and powerful words Paula.
You have really come a long way.
May I wish you a happy and successful onward journey and look forward to hearing more!
You are one strong lady, Paula! It takes courage to share your story, even more to take control of your life like you did. You rock!
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Thank you Anna! Just saw this! I’m pleased I did.