How writing saved my life: Janet Hoggarth on writing Gaby’s Angel
June 17, 2013 1 Comment
I wasn’t supposed to be a writer. I was supposed to be an iconic artist or a world-famous DJ spinning the wheels of steel in front of a crazy festival crowd. Writing was a complete accident. It wasn’t an accident that I learned to actually write – we all have to do that. It was an accident that I ended up doing this as a job. I was really an editorial assistant at Bloomsbury Children’s Books, battling through press releases and making lots of mistakes proof-reading manuscripts. Stop the press (literally!)! There’s still a comma in the wrong place on page ninety-two of Harry Potter. Doh, too late…
While making lots of mistakes my boss noticed that my jacket blurbs were quite good for someone who had been told at college to drop the Creative Writing module because ‘You can’t write in a colloquial manner in this class.’ Or indeed write at all. Course duly dropped. So it was a bit of a shock to find that the writing style I had adopted as an eleven-year-old and basically not changed since was a plus point and not negative as previously informed.
Barry, my boss, liked my writing so much that he asked me to write a joke book with my brother (who is a talented poet) and the process was reminiscent of us as kids creating fake newspapers for our parents to buy (an obsession that lead to writer’s cramp and colouring-in claw). The book did really well. And that’s when the seed was planted: maybe instead of being a world-dominating DJ aka Phat Biffa (my DJ name), I could be a writer instead. A lot less glamorous but at least I wouldn’t have jet lag all the time from touring and get tinnitus from mixing banging beats in my headphones. So I eventually gave up my now proper job (I had acquired an office all of my own and a list of books to commission) and Became A Writer.
Well, Becoming A Writer meant panicking a lot because instead of me nagging authors for a synopsis or the sample chapter or to Please Finish That Book or I Won’t Pay You, it was me being nagged. Argh! I churned out loads of books (now all on Amazon for 1p, relics really), got married, had three kids back to back and didn’t work for a long while. My brain was lost in the young baby wilderness years. Then out of nowhere I found myself single with three children under five. It has to be said that was a low point. Distant dreams of DJing resurfaced. Maybe I could still make it big? The kids could come with me on tour. I would make enough money for us all to live in a mansion with a pool. Or maybe I could start writing again…
I was having a really tough time, like Gaby in my new book Gaby’s Angel. Struggling with being a single parent, I was feeling very sorry for myself one morning on the school run, forcibly dragging all of us there and out of the house. Just as I was crossing the road with Danny in the pushchair and the girls tagging along a voice spoke to me. (Honestly, this is not made up!!!!) It was in my head, but didn’t sound like my voice. It said: ‘You are going to write a book called Gaby’s Angel about a girl who’s best friend dies.’ I stopped the pushchair and listened for what came next. ‘The dead friend sees that Gaby can’t cope without her so comes back as her angel to help her find a new best friend.’ That was it! I ran all the way to school and all the way back, chucked Danny in a playpen and wrote the synopsis in half an hour, like a woman possessed.
In the book Gaby receives white feathers from Emily, her dead best friend, as messages to not give up and carry on with life. One day I got in the car feeling so terribly sad and uninspired about writing and there on my seat was a perfectly formed white feather. How had it got in? It wasn’t there before. I took it as a message to keep going. Even if an errant seagull had pecked his way in and shed it while scavenging for ice cream, who cares? It worked. My ‘angel’ feather spurred me on that day.
It took a long time to write the book. I gave up twice and didn’t write for months because I was too exhausted or busy or DJing. But during those times I would remember the feather and the voice and would eventually flip open my laptop and make myself write. And after two years it was finally finished!
So for me, writing Gaby’s Angel was like a life raft. It kept the kids and me afloat. And they are incredibly excited to see a final copy. And so am I because it represents more than just a book. Like Gaby, it represents surviving the bad times and coming out the other side smiling older and wiser. Only not so much of the older if you don’t mind…
Gaby’s Angel is out now.