“Ten years ago I was browsing the newsagent’s shelves when I stumbled upon a writing magazine offering correspondence courses. I’d always been a bit of a scribbler, dashing off silly poems for friends’ birthdays, the odd school pantomime and all the creative stuff primary teachers have to produce. This was different, though I’d never written a short story in my life and I hadn’t a clue where to begin. Still, I’m always up for a challenge as long as there are no parachutes or zip wires involved. Fortunately, I hit the jackpot with my tutor, author Sue Moorcroft. After the first couple of assignments, she encouraged me to submit my stories to magazines which opened up a whole new, exciting world of possibilities.
“One of the fiction editors (Valerie Kerr) at the ‘Friend’ wrote me a lovely letter about my first submission, suggesting ideas for a rewrite. After a bit of tweaking, I had my first sale. I was ecstatic and so was my tutor. The biggest thrill was seeing my story in print, and after that I was well and truly hooked! Over the years I’ve received lots of friendly and encouraging feedback from the ‘Friend’ now all carefully squirreled away in my ‘Hurrah’ file.
“I was a drama teacher in the early part of my career, so I tend to see my stories in terms of scenes with a good peppering of dialogue. I particularly enjoy writing humour, which I suspect has something to do with my Liverpudlian roots. The Scouse wit is legendary and is based on understatement and one-liners, and this is what I use in my writing. I don’t aim for hilarity or belly laughs just the odd twitch of a reader’s lip will do me nicely!
“As well as writing for magazines I’ve had some stories published in anthologies and have been lucky enough to win a few competitions. I remember buying a huge inflatable swimming pool with my first win. I’m a hopeless swimmer, so the family was slightly bemused to find me splashing about in water wings in the middle of the lawn. (Of course, this later became a story!)
“All of my stories have a resident animal or two even if they’re just snoozing on a sofa, though often they get up and push their way into centre stage. This reflects my other passion: animals. We’ve always had family dogs, and when I hit thirty-five I decided it was time for the riding lessons I’d missed out on as a child. The back yards of Liverpool seldom have a convenient paddock attached, and I’d had to make do with hobbyhorses made out of old socks. So I embarked on a middle-aged decade or two of ponies and gymkhanas. I think I may be a late developer! My daughter never really forgave me for dressing up in sparkly tights to play an ageing Tinker Bell in the village pantomime, though.
“My career took a few surprising twists over the years, and after a lengthy stint teaching complementary therapies in a FE college I started my own reflexology school, which proved to be an even bigger challenge than short story writing. In fact, I had to give up writing for a few years and focus on feet and students. Last year felt like the right time to retire, and since then I have picked up my writing pen again.
“When I’m not writing I’m out in a windswept field somewhere practising dog agility with Rupert-the-cockapoo. This is a totally addictive sport and I still can’t quite believe that I’m prepared to get up at five in the morning and drive for a couple of hours to spend the day competing, eating chips and wringing out soggy socks. My other dog, Alfie-the-bichon, is a highly trained lapdog and refuses to take part in anything which involves moving off his cushion.
“Since Rupert developed epilepsy a couple of years ago I’ve become increasingly interested in researching the natural approach to dog health issues. It’s a massive subject and friends often cross the road when they see me coming. There may even be a book in the offing at some stage.
“Holidays are tricky with an epileptic dog, so we’ve bought Rupert a caravan which he’s happy to share with us. If there’s a glimmer of sun we can load up the dogs and head for the beach. I’m bound to come across an idea or two for a story, so it’s just like going to work really.
“The photo shows the dogs’ first tentative encounter with the sea. They’re clearly thinking we’ve found a mighty big puddle!”
You can catch up with Eileen’s latest story, “Animal Magic”, in our July 25 issue.