One of the most common questions we writers are asked is ‘when did you start to write?’ and for me this question always raises a smile as the answer takes me back to my childhood when I used to write songs at a very young age and show them to my mother for her approval.
Although my main writing career nowadays is mainly as a novelist and scriptwriter, song-writing is where it all began and is still a passion that I love to pursue when I can. I believe in moving people through words, be it in a song or a story – make them laugh, make them cry, but most importantly, make them feel something. Move them.
I’ve always loved music of all kinds and some of my favourite memories are of my young mother singing along to the radio in our family kitchen as she cooked a Sunday roast. I absorbed all sorts of songs back then – I loved pop music from Madonna, Wham! and Wet Wet Wet, I was reared on James Taylor and Leonard Cohen and the sounds of American country were never far away in our house.
I didn’t have the luxury of music lessons so I used my own free time to put melodies to my words on a keyboard I was given as a Christmas present and I would spend hours in my bedroom at the age of eight, nine, and ten, penning bits and pieces of songs together, then my sister, my cousin and I would force feed them to any misfortunate audience who were near. I think we fancied ourselves as the new Bananarama and we even did a photoshoot in the local park, believing we really were popstars!
When our local theatre was being refurbished, I gathered a ‘cast’ of friends under the stage for my first ever musical with great ambitions of seeing it come to life. The story was about a murder and it featured the songs of Michael Jackson rather than my own inventions but it never got further from that first impromptu rehearsal…I can’t say I am surprised!
The keyboards remained my songwriting companion into my teenage years when I wrote two songs – ‘Mystery Man’ and ‘The Boy Next Door’ and I still remember every word of them. My mother, a beautiful singer and writer herself who had given up any ambitions to raise six of us children, was mesmerised and she wondered what outlets there could be for a young person who showed such interest and flair for song-writing but in the late 80s there weren’t too many options, especially when money was tight and there were so many mouths to feed.
My ambitions lay in Nashville and I dreamed of one day bringing my lyrics out there where I could work as a songwriter in Music City.
When tragedy struck our household in 1991, I think I must have forgotten about writing for many years. We lost our precious mother very suddenly when she was only 36 years old and it rocked our family to the core, so the latter end of my teenage years were spent trying to understand what had happened and how we would continue without her.
At 19 I had my own first child, so times were busy and my main aim was to finish my education under quite testing circumstances but I finished my A-Levels and went on to university in Belfast where I studied Communications, Advertising and Marketing. This degree course brought me into the world of Public Relations and Event Management where I fed my creative bug as much as I could but somewhere lurking beneath the 9 to 5 job was a hunger to write again and it was much later in 2005, not long before my 30th birthday that I entered and won a short story competition which led to my first publishing deal.
I honestly couldn’t believe it. I was a writer again and a very real one at that with one of my books, Since You’ve Been Gone, hitting the Tesco Ireland Number One spot!
Now, ten years on and at the grand old age of 40, I have written 8 novels and 3 musicals (no Michael Jackson songs this time!) and the stage that I gathered my cast under aged 11 has now held many of my self-penned productions, so it’s funny how life comes full circle.
I sometimes wonder if things had been different in my personal life, would I have ended up in Nashville like I had dreamed of, but the songs I do write now are used in my own productions and it’s a great feeling to hear an audience in a theatre sing along to my words – I leave the melodies to my partner Jim who is a singer/songwriter and we have a blend that really works. I was delighted recently when Irish country singer Derek Ryan used some of my lyrics on his Number One album One Good Night, and I’d love to write for more singers and artists of different genres.
My main focus for now though is on my new publishing deal with Harper Impulse (HarperCollins) who will release my novel, The Legacy of Lucy Harte, on 6th January 2017. It is a heart-warming, heart-breaking story and my first release in 4 years so it’s going to be a big celebration when it hits the shelves! I have really matured as a writer and this book is the one that I am most proud of as I have put all my years’ experience to practice with this one. So far, it’s getting a fantastic reaction, though it might make you cry!
I suppose, all in all, be it through scripts, poetry, songs or novels, I see myself as a storyteller of all sorts and I enjoy any writing challenge that comes my way. I think if it’s in you, it has to come out and I am totally over the moon to be given the opportunity to bring my work to new audiences all the time.
A trip to Nashville is on my to-do list for 2017, so who knows, I might live out that dream someday…they do say life begins at 40, and I have to say it’s so far, so good for me!
Emma Heatherington is a novelist from Donaghmore in Co Tyrone. She writes two types of novels aimed at the women’s commercial fiction market;Romantic Comedy under the name Emma Heatherington; and Romantic Suspense under the name Emma Louise Jordan
Emma has five children – Jordyn (20), Jade (15, Dualta (15), Adam (14) and two year old Sonny James. She began writing in 2005 when she entered and won a short story competition in May of that year. By December she had staged her first musical, signed a first book deal with Dodder a few months later and Crazy For You hit the shelves in 2007. Emma went on to write 6 novels with Poolbeg Press in Ireland and is now delighted to be with Harper Impulse (Harper Collins).