I grew up in the Lake District and, as the last of five children, was able to disappear for whole days without anyone realising I’d gone! I’d leave with my dog, a good book and pockets stuffed with whatever food I could find, only returning when the pockets were empty or exhaustion had set in.
This is Buttermere – my favourite part of the Lakes. I would spend hours here, with my dog Fatima, exploring the fells which encircled the lake. (Fell is the Cumbrian word for mountain and comes from the Norwegian word Fjell. Lots of the Cumbrian dialect is linked to Scandinavian languages because we were conquered by the Vikings many moons ago.)
The basic frame of my childhood home was built 400 years ago, out of stones that were taken from the crumbling castle at the bottom of our road. All that remained of the castle was one wall, on a mound, surrounded by a dried-up moat.
It seems strange now that no one showed any interest in it – but as a child, it was truly the source of much inspiration. I would often sit there whilst my dog chased rabbits, dreaming about the lords and ladies who had once shared the same space.
I feel so lucky now to have had that kind of freedom as a child – it’s quite rare these days – but it has left me with an addiction to wild places that I never want to lose.
When I finally plucked up the courage to leave Cumbria, I went to university in Manchester to study English. This took me to Trinity College Dublin for a year and it was there I became hooked on theatre. I think I was drawn to acting because, as a child, I was regularly told off for being a dreamer but as an actor, I was given license to live in my imagination. So when I left university, I decided to go to drama school. If I had realised that it was possible to be a writer, I probably would have done that, but I had the strange notion that I wasn’t clever enough!
When you become an actor you must have a headshot, which sounds painful but is actually just a picture of your face so that directors can see if you might look right for their film or play. This is my first headshot after I left drama school and I was dead nervous. In fact, I was pretty terrified about everything – especially having to perform in front of an audience.
Thankfully though, my drama school buddy, Chas, who has no problems prancing about in front of people – asked me to join his band and that was the end of my confidence problems.
There is something about holding a microphone that gives you a feeling of invincibility. Or maybe the zebra print trousers had something to do with it! No idea how I got away with those. If you also suffer from nerves – please try both methods and let me know how you get on…
When I moved to Kenya in 2010, I joined another band called the Soul Syndicate. Here we are, in our smart clothes. I also sang and played guitar with a folk band called the Hootenanny and am currently trying to learn to play the bodhrán because we have too many guitarists.
A bodhrán is the hand drum used to keep time in Irish folk music, but I am half Scottish so am super proud of my thistley drum!
Although I’ve enjoyed playing music in Kenya, there isn’t much work for me as a British actor, so I decided to retrain as an English and Drama teacher.
This was one of my first classrooms when I moved to Kenya but now I teach at the Banda School which has warthogs as regular visitors to the sports field.
Working as a teacher was the best move ever because it helped me rediscover my love of children’s books. Here I am dressed as Miss Trunchbull on World Book Day with my friend Jazz as Miss Honey.
Spending time with young people every day and knowing what they like, gave me the courage to give writing a go, and that was that. So, now I spend most of my time dreaming about people and places and trying to write about them. But very often, this cheeky monkey interrupts me to steal bananas or eggs from under my nose.
Life in Kenya is amazing, I feel so lucky to be here – a day doesn’t pass without an encounter with the wild side. But being a writer, a teacher and a mum isn’t easy – I usually get up at 5am so I can write before my kids wake up and the normal working day begins, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Writing makes me come alive.
When you are thinking about what you want to do with your life – that’s quite a good question to ask yourself – what makes you come alive? But if you do choose a creative life, you will probably have to be prepared to do lots of other things as well. I’ve worked as a telesales rep, looked after old people and young people, mucked out stables and cleaned houses. I’ve been a front of house manager in a theatre, a shop assistant in Marks and Spencer and Debenhams, ‘Ask Me’ assistant when the Canary Wharf shopping centre first opened up in London.
I’ve worked in a holiday home for the disabled, and more pubs and bars and restaurants than I can count. I’ve been a school secretary, a conference centre manager and a PA to the MD of a medical educational company in London. I’ve transcribed documents for academic conferences and made PR videos for charities and corporates. I also trained as a masseuse and a reflexologist and still have a few clients today.
Do you feel tired after reading that? I do. Let’s have a nice cup of tea!