Thursday, January 12, 2017

"Dozy Daisy Dreamboat" grows up

The garret I starved in.
Miss Shaughnessy - my primary one teacher (and how's that for a name five-year-olds have to learn to spell?) - dubbed me "Dozy Daisy Dreamboat" because I spent more time looking out the window and making up stories than I did trying to . . . do whatever the rest of them were doing. I wouldn't know.

And she was right. My Godmother, Aunty Doreen, lived opposite the school and said she used to see me, chin in hands, leaning on the windowsill, totally oblivious  to everything in the classroom behind me.

On parents' night, my report was "over-imaginative and too full of nonsense".

Again, fair comment. I made up many stories when I was a wee girl. Some I wrote down, but most I just doled out to my family: I've gone blind! There's a snake in my bed! And the worst: A strange man followed me home! (Sorry, Mum. Sorry, Dad.)

I remember the day it stopped. I was fourteen and a careers adviser visited the school. She asked what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said I wanted to be a writer. She said: "Don't be daft. You're a clever girl. You could stay on and go to university, get a good job."

So I stayed on at school, did an MA and a PhD and got a good job, as a university lecturer. My degrees weren't even in English literature. I did one year and reckoned I'd never enjoy reading another novel as long as I lived unless I switched courses. That year of literature even made me hate Jane Austen (for a while).

Twenty years in all I spent not writing, unless you count essays, a thesis and lectures. The last five of them were utterly miserable. I worked in a School of English with an atmosphere like dementors' breath, teaching linguistics, watching more students fail to find any joy in studying literature.

Then one night, in a cinema carpark, moaning to my pal about how much I hated my job, it all came back. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to leave school. I didn't care if it was daft. I wanted to rip off my grey cardigan and reveal the spangly costume of Dozy Daisy Dreamboat.

So I resigned, we sold our house and moved to a dilapidated farmhouse with a peppercorn rent (see above) and I got stuck in.

Book one went in a drawer after forty rejections. Book 2 was the first in a series about a 1920s detective, channelling the golden-age authors I've always loved. Skipping ahead a bit, I'm expecting the page proofs any day now for the twelfth in the series. It's in development for television and there's a radio adaptation in the works.

As well as those twelve novels in the series, I've written five contemporary standalones in the psychological thriller/suspense sub-genre. I'm currently working on number seven and emailing back and forth about jacket copy for number six.

All my books are set in Scotland (except one foray a hundred miles over the border, to Yorkshire) but I've just finished the first in a trilogy that take place in the US. We're currently discussing titles, taglines and jackets. It's probably going to be SCOT FREE: a Last Ditch Mystery "the lighter side of the dark underbelly of the American dream". But it's probably not going to have an image of a woman floating in a pool dreaming of a Highland Cow standing in a loch.

My sharpie sketch of a possible jacket

That was the other big swerve in my life so far. In 2010 at the age of forty four, I left Scotland and moved to Davis, CA. It was always the plan, when I gave up academia, that I'd chum along if my husband got a job somewhere. Could have been Aberystwyth, or Wagenigen. Turned out it was California. Heigh-ho.

I have no regrets about the twenty years, nor even about the five years of crying in my office in between lectures, because nothing makes you surer you're finally in a round hole than the memory of spending decades in a square hole, picking out splinters and dabbing yourself with rubbing alcohol.

Besides, I think the only way to get where I am is the way I came. And there's nowhere else I'd rather be. Dozy forever!


Art Taylor said...

Great story here--and as someone teaching as well, I like that description of "atmosphere like dementors' breath." :-)

Also love that your teacher's complaints about you being "over-imaginative and too full of nonsense" have ultimately paid off so well!

Aimee Hix said...

Another new sets of adventures to enjoy from Catriona ... sorry, Dozy Daisy Dreamboat? Well, that's delightful.

As for too full of nonsense. I hope that woman sees your books in the bookstore now and realizes how silly and full of nonsense she was.

Shelley Kubitz said...

Dozy Daisy Dreamboat. Love this. :)

Cathy Ace said...

Sounds like this writing thing is working out for you...long may it do so :-)

Ann in Rochester said...

I think Daisy Dozy dreamboat is a Dandy name. Now what do I win? Xox

Lori Rader-Day said...

Dozy forever, indeed.

Kathy Reel said...

Every time I think that I can't possibly love you more. Daisy Dozy Dreamboat and "over-imaginative and too full of nonsense".

Susan C Shea said...

So, you too knew your were a writer, even if the world thought you were daft to say so, early on. If that seems like a disease to some people, it's a true gift for someone as talented as you are.