Friday, 9 July 2010

More than I expected - meeting Judy Astley!

It was good to go along to a local library the other evening and hear a well-known author, namely Judy Astley, talk about her life as a writer. Her books are undoubtedly in the genre of commercial women’s fiction and very popular – all 16 of them!

What was so curious to me was how much of what she said about her past resonated with me. We are of similar age I would guess but here’s a few more aspects that jumped out:

· Memories of early schooldays: would prefer to be ‘kept in’ writing a ‘composition’ than being in the playground. No good at sport. Absolutely!
· Always had her head in a book. Oh me too! Loved Enid Blyton before moving on to other things. Yes, yes, I used to devour them greedily.
· Favourite Christmas present would be – well, what do you think? Books. I remember requesting a set of 5/- book tokens. It was all I really wanted.
· Going along to the library. That’s me, too. On my bike, saddle-bag stuffed with books.
· A’ levels English and French in common. University days – Judy did English – I was never that good at decisions so I did a mixture of English, French, Sociology and Politics. Both did secretarial courses too and to this day appreciate the skills it gave us, although forever had to fight the maxim ‘once a typist, always a typist’.
· Made clothes – I’d always done this, first for teddies and dolls, then for myself in teenage years. Knitted, sewn from paper patterns or made up, crocheted (oh those holey dresses of the 60s!). Judy went as far as becoming a dress designer and got involved in Liberty’s. I did sell a couple of knitting patterns to magazines but never went any further. And patchwork. Yes we both did that as well! Maybe it’s just our era! And – listen up – we both sold bags to a shop in Oxford!!
· Writing, writing, writing … always there in the background. Judy started at a tender age to send off stories to magazines and learned what rejection meant. I began writing stories when stuck in remote corner of Ireland in my early twenties, did not submit anything until later. Did get published regularly in Romance, True Story and My Story – and Christian Herald!! But in between many were rejected.
· We both went to writing classes. I did The Writing School course by correspondence and went to local classes too (where I met @MarikaCobbold !). Both learned the importance of writing for a defined audience or readership, which underpinned my work in PR and marketing and writing articles freelance.
· At work, freelance freedoms and flexibility suited us both. Judy was sometimes caught out writing at work when employed (love this)! I had a huge number of jobs, variably employed and self-employed. My CV is a nightmare - but I was more inclined to stare out of the window, restless and fidgety, when working for a company or other organisation. (Perhaps if you are a bit creative you cannot bear to be managed? Discuss!)
· Judy won a short story competition and her brilliance clearly shone through! Her first novel was accepted for publication (without an agent – impressive) and the rest … is history. Writing commercially successful books she could earn her living by writing – bliss. Now she has an agent and 16 novels under her belt. I have temporarily given up pursuing the agent-publisher trail and decided to get on with writing novels in my retirement and self-publish. It does not provide me with a living (certainly not, says hubby) but I am writing what I enjoy and other people seem to like reading them.
· Another point on which we differ. I asked Judy which gave her most pleasure - the ‘process’ of writing or the ‘result’! Without hesitation she said ‘finishing the book’! I actually really enjoy the writing bit and feel quite bereft when I reach the end. Yes, it is immensely satisfying to see the final product, of course, but for me, not the main reason for writing. Odd perhaps, but true.

It was so good to meet her – along with two other writer friends and, with much in common, I hope we may meet again some day. Now I must go get her books from the library!!


  1. When I say I like finishing a book the best, I don't mean I don't enjoy writing the bulk of it. On the days when it's really flying it can't be beaten as a job, truly. But there's nothing quite like that tingle when it's done and you're happy with it. Of course then there are edits, copy edits, worrying about whether anyone will like it etc... But that moment where you think YES - that's it! Love it.

  2. Oh good! I'm glad you do actually enjoy writing Judy - or your life would be hard indeed! But I have heard other writers say that 'writing is torture' even though they would choose to do nothing else; can't live with it, can't live without it sort of thing. I certainly agree that the satisfaction of finally putting a book to bed is special, although quite nerve-racking too!