Vivien Hampshire reveals the inside story of the woman behind the pen
When it was suggested that, for the theme of this blog during November, we all write a few interesting snippets about ourselves, for some reason I found myself singing the opening lines of Shakespeare’s song from The Two Gentlemen of Verona!
Who is Silvia? What is she,
That all our swains commend her?
Holy, fair and wise is she.
It’s easy to hide behind our writing. In our stories, given the right research, we can visit places we have never been and act out thrilling, romantic or even sexy scenes we have never experienced in real life – and hopefully make our readers believe every word. Many of us may take on a pen name, maybe going so far as to change gender in the process, so our readers, and maybe even our nearest and dearest, don’t have to know who we are if we choose not to tell them. Writing is a wonderful smoke screen behind which we can happily hide our true selves and revel in make-believe.
So, who is Vivien? What is she? What can I tell you about me that you are not able to guess from looking at my Amazon author page or from reading my fiction? Well… holy, fair and wise I cannot claim to be, but (in case you’re curious) here’s a potted history of me – the me when I am not wearing my writer’s hat – and leaving out most of the boring bits!
I left school earlier than planned because my dad was ill, but that didn’t stop me from finishing my exams. I managed the second year of my A level studies while holding down a full-time job in a bank, thanks to a couple of close friends who brought me their lesson notes and passed on homework details, and teachers who continued to mark it even though I was no longer a pupil. I took time off and joined my former classmates on exam days, and passed three subjects with flying colours. And I’m pretty sure the experience has been an enormous help to me in managing my time and juggling the conflicting demands of work, children and writing in the years since.
After around ten years in banking I went to work for a London council in their accountancy department and stayed there for a further eight, before leaving to bring up my children. I was always surprisingly good with money, figures, balance sheets and budgets, even though, had anyone asked, I would have said (and still do) that I am a words girl, not a numbers one! Give me a crossword over a Sudoku any day. But somehow I had fallen into a career path that I would never have consciously chosen. Again, handy in later life though. I never have trouble balancing my bank account, sending out invoices or filling in my tax returns, and apart from a mortgage (now repaid) and a not-to-be-missed interest free deal on my new car, I have never had to take out a loan for anything either.
From the age of sixteen, although I worked with numbers, I really just wanted to write. Poems at first, then stories, and eventually a novel – the opening to which won a national competition and brought two literary agents knocking at my door without me having to seek them out at all. Oh, dear. The book didn’t sell, despite some very near misses, but I went on to write another two, both unpublished but great practice for later on. And while all that was going on… I gave birth to twins! After an ectopic pregnancy, years of infertility and five rounds of IVF, the miracle happened and life changed – more hectic, different priorities, and less time. I registered as a childminder and, for the next ten years (still writing as a hobby when I could), I looked after other people’s kids as well as my own, followed by my best job ever, helping very young children to gain a love of books and reading in a children’s centre and running storytelling and rhyme sessions in libraries. All this daily contact with toddlers turned out very useful for helping me create the character of Lydia, a childminder who ‘loses’ a baby in her care, in my first (self-)published novel, Losing Lucy – and in writing my newest book about a child left alone at home. This novel, the one I have enjoyed writing the most, is still trying to find itself an agent and ultimately a publishing deal.
But, always, whatever job I was doing, bubbling underneath were words! The constant urge to read (here I am in the photo above, reading the fantastic charity short stories anthology Diamonds and Pearls ), to dip into dictionaries, to play around with words and learn their meanings, to complete ever harder cryptic crosswords, and to write. It never went away. And now I’m sixty, the kids are grown and gone, and I have a new husband who follows his own hobbies and leaves me plenty of time to pursue my own. Life feels right. And the time feels right too. I have written well over a hundred published woman’s magazine stories and a book about my crossword passion, How to Crack Cryptic Crosswords – and now I’m back writing novels again, with a vengeance!
If I could go back, I doubt I would do anything very differently. I don’t feel I’ve missed out on much. Marriage, children, good health, enough money to get by – I’ve been lucky enough to have had all those. I have never dreamed of setting off on major foreign travel trips, of doing a parachute jump or learning to play the piano, or even of winning the lottery. No, my dream is much more modest, but sometimes feels just as unattainable. I want that bestseller, and I want it NOW!