A few years after Dancing in the Street (also the title of my memoir) at the end of the war, we girls at grammar school who were about to launch ourselves into the world of work,were questioned about our choice of future careers. Most girls wanted to be teachers or nurses, one a scientist, all choices which were greeted with approval. When it was my turn, I blushed and said:simply "I want to be a writer..." A pause, then came the answer: "But Sheila, don't you know there is a shortage of paper?" I have been conscious of that ever since...
I learned to read and write at three years old, but my mother said I was telling stories to myself in my cot. She and Dad used to listen outside the door. I guess it was my way of getting off to sleep. I was a premature baby, almost born in an Austin 7 en route to Suffolk where Mum was going to care for her sister who had just had a baby herself! She made it to the top step of the stairs at Auntie's house and I decided to put in an appearance! I was bright yellow with jaundice and baptised hurriedly. I always say I am allergic to shellfish because Mum ate a pint of shrimps on the journey because that was one of her "fancies!"
|Sheila at 7|
When I was seven I entertained the school on a Friday afternoon in the village hall to a long-running saga about a black-eyed pirate called Bill. I made it up as I went along and was so absorbed in the story I wasn't self concious, until the hall caretaker told my aunt (with whom we stayed at times during the war, after being bombed out) how he put down his bucket and mop, and like my parents, "listened outside the door." Then I felt too shy to continue. However, I was writing all the time. Shortage of paper then indeed: kind friends cut the flyleaves from old books for my use! I wrote my first "book" before I was ten, in purple ink, all sixty pages of it, probably purple prose as well!
Later, when I was fifteen, I won an essay prize. The subject was Waste Paper, just up my street. I was an avid collector, especially of ancient comics, though my mother pointed out to me that there wasn't much point in replying to the reader who wanted a penfriend, as "she must be thirty by now!" I nearly didn't enter this inter-schools competition set up by the local paper, because I had dashed off pages in my usual awful scrawl, "You let your pen run away with you," as Dad said. The Head mistress appeared with my script and said: "The deadline is tomorrow. Stay after school and rewrite this with no blots!" Reluctantly, I did, and my form tutor kindly delivered my effort by hand. I thought no more of it until one morning I was puzzled by girls coming up to me, and saying "Well done!"
I had come first out of 3,000 entries. I was embarrassed because the Head Girl had come second.... Years later, my old Head Teacher wrote to me, "You have a gift, Sheila, I do hope you use it!" Well, I try, I really do, Miss C.
|Sheila's first 5 children|
I married young and John and I brought up our five boys and four girls on a smallholding in the Weald of Kent. I called my memoir of those days Knee Deep in Plums, because we were, when we arrived at our orchard paradise The house was in a poor state of repair, we had mice under the floorboards and bats in the loft, but we loved it all. We had numerous pets (as well as the "pests") - I never stopped writing, and the children were a great inspiration! I wrote articles on family life for magazines, including MY WEEKLY and PEOPLE'S FRIEND. Also short stories for the American bible-belt for children. With the welcome dollars we purchased a large portable swimming pool. The children all learned to swim in it, but all I could do was float in an old tyre with the current baby on my lap!
Much later we lived in a chapel, and that's another story - related in Who Stirs the Porridge in the Pot - plus mention of the many pantomimes I wrote for the village and the primary school. I appeared in these myself, not as Cinderella, but as an Ugly Sister in that one.m Acting has always been another love. As I tussled with my "sister" front stage before the Ball, she cried: "That frock does nothing to camoflage flab, In that pink you look like an overdressed crab!" As she ripped off the skirt and revealed my baggy, spotted bloomers, there was a chorus of sympathy from the audience, "Aaah!" and I knew I was an "old ham"
I was also village correspondent while we lived in that village. I wrote a short story for WOMAN'S OWN competiton at that time, and was a runner up. The story was published in the magazine. Emboldened, I began to write romantic short stories, set in the past, and had wonderful feedback from readers.
My editor at the now sadly defunct WOMAN'S REALM told me I should write books, "because we all want to know what happened next!" So I did. I also joined the Romantic Novelists Association, and am still a long time member.
I have now written 20 books, the latest is The Poplar Penny Whistlers (Hale) and the next one is published in July, Young May Moon (inspired by the Punch and Judy.)There are always children and animals in my stories! I am writing the biography of my great-grandmother Emma, a story-teller herself, and a remarkable woman. I have reached 1862 right now - it is entitled Nelly Has Made You a Chocolate Cake.
|Great-Grandson, Alexander Jonathan,|
with Molly, the lab