Can I call myself a writer? – Theresa Talbot

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By Theresa Talbot

Hi I’m Theresa Talbot – and I’m a writer. I feel as though I should be standing up at a support group to utter that phrase as it’s taken me so long to say it out loud. As a broadcast journalist (I talk out loud on the radio!) I’ve written every day of my professional life for the past 20 years, but never could I call myself by the W word. I wrote articles, news items, travel reports and even comedy sketches for BBC Radio Scotland, but that was all part of my freelance portfolio that kept me going whilst the dream of being a proper grown-up writer nagged from the background.♥

I’ve always loved to listen to stories. My Mum & Dad were Irish and told the most fabulous ghost stories that I lapped up and assumed to be true. My siblings were great readers and would devour Enid Blyton books two at a time, whilst I struggled to get through even a page  – ‘she not a reader’ – was the description levied at me and I was mortified. Then I discovered Hans Christian Andersen and I couldn’t get enough. You could stick your hard boiled eggs and lashings of ginger beer, here was a world of mermaids and snow queens, nightingales and emperors.  I was hooked.

It was a long time after that however that I actually thought I would dare write something myself. Like most people I felt I had some stories to tell. There was always a touch of the macabre about my tales and I toyed with short stories for a while, but they just weren’t right for me.

I went back to college for a year to get enough grades to apply for uni, and discovered that I could churn out essays faster than it took the Famous Five to open a bottle of that ginger beer. This was pre laptop days when everything had to be written by hand. The reason for my apparent speed was my new-found social life. I preferred going out with my pals than studying, so everything was left to the last minute, leaving me with just an hour or two for an assignment I’d been given three weeks to complete. I’m not commenting on the quality of the work, but I was never late and got the grades! This skill served me well when I fell into journalism after I finally completed my degree.

In fact a few weeks ago I got a fabulous card from a former Professor of Glasgow University;  ‘Dear Theresa, I loved your book – so much better than those essays you used to write for my Economic History class.’

As I say I sort of fell into journalism after a series of jobs including Library Assistant, Medical Rep and even Pepsi Challenge Girl. Working in a busy radio newsroom I realised that my talent for writing quickly was a God-send. And because I was (and still am) writing for the spoken word, this helped enormously when it came to writing dialogue for my books.

When I decided to actually write a novel I confess I didn’t have a clue. The main thing that prompted me to get started was that I had a PC. No longer would I succumb to the noxious fumes of tipex – as typing was not, and still isn’t, my strong point. I had no plan, no structure, just an idea which I started writing. Please regard this as a warning rather than a piece of advice. It’s best to plan ahead. So they tell me.

Crime seemed the obvious genre for me to tackle given my professional background. I was reporting crime every day, plotting it out as a work of fiction was a natural progression.

The best advice I can actually give is ‘don’t work in a vacuum’. Mix with other writers, mix with readers, go to book signings, attend writing festivals. Surround yourself with the art you want to be part of. Being on your own as a novice writer is such a struggle. And it’s bloody lonely too. Pre internet & social media days it could take months or even years to get feed-back on your work. But now there are so many outlets, chat rooms, forums – take advantage. Most writers are only too willing to offer help and support, and those who aren’t… well stuff them. You don’t want advice from them.

People often say ‘I’d like to write a book.’ I hear it every day when I tell people what I do for a living. It was only when a friend replied, ‘no, they wish they’d written a book – it’s two different things’, did I realise how true that was. So if you want to write – just write. Find your own voice, find your own style and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Those mistakes will help your grow.

I now have two books under my belt – can I now call myself a writer? Probably, but it’ll be years before I’m brave enough to utter the phrase… I’m Theresa Talbot, and I’m an Author.

Theresa Talbot is a BBC Radio Scotland presenter, best known as the voice of Traffic & Travel and as former presenter of The Beechgrove Potting Shed. Theresa studied Economic History at Glasgow University and after graduating tried numerous careers, including Library Assistant, Medical Rep & Pepsi Challenge Girl, before an eavesdropped conversation on the 66 bus led her into a career on radio. Her hobbies include gardening, music & yoga. She also makes very good soup. The Lost Children is her first novel and inspired by the real life events surrounding Glasgow’s Magdalene Institution.

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