How My Art Fits Into My LifeMy parents were both artists - my mother an enthusiastic amateur painter and my father a graphic designer, in advertising. I am the middle child of three. Before I had any sense of my own ability I was told I was “good at art”. At infant school, when Miss Lawrence - my first year teacher - went round the class, asking everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up, I was aware of her surprise when I confidently asserted that I wanted to be a commercial artist.
I also began to write “novels” before making the transition to secondary school, but this hobby was not taken seriously by my parents. Their interest and enthusiasm was captivated by the doodles and illustrations with which I embellished these growing tomes. They didn’t dismiss my writing, they simply ignored it, assuming it was silly, childish stuff and that I was headed for a career in art. I accepted this without question. Art was the only subject at school that I was unarguably good at, so I never for a moment thought that writing as career was open to me. For one thing, I’d never finished one of the many novels I’d begun. And for another..... Well, published writers were clever, educated people weren’t they? They went to Oxford or Cambridge and then worked in journalism or TV. I left school at 16 with just enough exam passes to get me into art school (I now realise I am on the dyslexia spectrum) and I stopped writing.
After a few false starts, I eventually landed my dream job, working as an illustrator in an advertising design studio. In due course I went freelance. But advertising is a very pressurised world. Jobs were typically wanted yesterday, and sitting for hours, or even days on end with nothing to do, and then working through the night on a job that had to be in by 9 am the following morning was not an uncommon experience. When I married and had my son I very much enjoyed being at home. My only artistic outlet was to sign myself up for life classes (studying the human figure) which had been my favourite part of my art school curriculum. I started writing again when my son was four, hoping I could earn money at home by writing for Mills & Boon. How difficult could that be? Ha ha ha ha ha...... Of course, I now realise it is very difficult.
By the time I’d finished Just Before Dawn I knew the story was too challenging and off-beat to interest Mills & Boon, and when they rejected it I wasn’t surprised. But a small publisher had just been established. Love Stories, characterised at the time as “The thinking woman’s Mills & Boon”, were actively looking for books to fulfil a perceived demand for more unconventional, un-clichéd romantic fiction. They published Just Before Dawn, and in due course, published my second novel, Desires & Dreams. They already had a designer but they accepted my offer to produce my own cover art. But my publisher folded after about 5 years. Unable to fight their corner in a fast-changing publishing world, Love Stories couldn’t achieve the promotion and distribution necessary to ensure success for itself or its writers. (Some years later these two books were republished in paperback, by a POD publisher, again using my own artwork.)
I continued going to life classes and I continued to produce our yearly Christmas card, which I’d done for the family ever since I was 17. And I would always do small art jobs for friends and family, if asked. But with two books published, I now thought of myself as “a writer” first and an artist second. I was confident of finding another publisher but from then on I languished, unable even to interest an agent. I wrote what I’d always written - challenging, edgy relationship fiction, always with a love story at the core - but not conventional “Romance”. When the e-revolution began I wondered what this could mean for me.
Christmas 2010, my husband bought me a Kindle and with the realisation that anyone could self-publish to this device I began to investigate this option. But, I am very un-technical and poor at absorbing and understanding instructions, particularly if couched in jargon and acronyms - a typical dyslexic trait - so getting my book, Torn, up onto Amazon Kindle was a very steep learning curve for me and involved a few false starts. But one of the more enjoyable aspects of self-e-publishing is that again I can design my own covers. For Torn, e-published in 2011, I went to Bigstock to find a royalty-free photograph. I wanted an image of a barbed wire fence in a countryside setting. The image I found conveyed all I wanted to say about the story. The barbed wire in the foreground is a barrier to the idyllic sunlit field in the background. I designed the layout. This book is now also available as a paperback, published with CreateSpace.
Life Class - e-published in 2012 - was a title waiting for a story. To research one aspect of it I attended a sculpture workshop, where I took the photograph which I used for the cover design (first obtaining the permission of the nude model!). My son helped me alter the image and to achieve the effect now seen. Life Class is also now available in paperback. In a few months (I don’t yet have a publication date) my book Fly or Fall will be coming out. I have gone back to one of the royalty-free photo warehouses for the image, but I will be putting my own stamp onto the finished design.
(All the images reproduced here are copyright, and may not be reproduced without my permission.)