Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Hanging up my boots. Getting back to my roots - Liz Kessler

If you picture a writer from centuries ago, what do you see?

I bet a fair proportion of you see a similar image to mine: a solitary author, hunched over a desk, working by candlelight with a quill pen and inky fingers.

Perhaps this is a slightly over-romanticised view. But what we do know for certain is that up until the last decade or two, the process of writing books was probably mostly confined to the job of, well, writing books.

Nowadays, any published author will tell you it is about so much more than that. Yes of course, at its heart, the one bit of the job that is essential is still the writing of the book. But we live in times that demand a lot more of authors if we want to be successful. It’s a crowded marketplace out there, and there is more and more pressure to find creative and effective ways to help our books to be seen and noticed.

We do this in all sorts of ways.
  • Writing blogs;
  • Setting up Facebook author pages;
  • Creating a website and keeping it up to date;
  • Doing school visits;
  • Posting on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram etc etc etc.

I do all of these things, and for the most part, I REALLY enjoy all of them. But sometimes, I get to the end of my working day and I realise that I’ve spent the majority of it doing the work that supports my books, and only a tiny proportion of it on the actual writing. And much as I enjoy the rest of it, the writing is still my favourite bit.

This year, my publisher has asked me to start writing two books a year instead of one. The request is a compliment, and I’m keen to give it a go. But I’ve made a deal with myself: in order to do it, I have to stop doing a lot of the other stuff that fills my days.

And so, after five and a bit years, I’ve decided it is time to hang up my ABBA boots and give someone else a chance to join this fantastic blog whilst I get back to my quill pen and candlelight and attempt to put as much creative energy as I can into the writing.

At around the same time that I made this decision, I received an email that was one of the most heart-warming emails I’ve ever received. It was one of those that takes my breath away at the thought of having such a special role in a young person’s life, and it reminded me that the beating heart at the centre of my job is not the sales or the twitter followers or the marketing plans or the blogs. It is the readers.

And so, I would like to end my ABBA journey by getting right back to basics, and share the email that reminded what an absolute privilege my job is.

With thanks to Isabelle for writing it (and giving me permission to share it), this is why I’m a writer. And with huge thanks to everyone involved in running this wonderful ABBA blog and letting me be part of it (especially Sue and Penny) this is me signing off.

Dear Miss Kessler and Miss Windsnap,

“I’m ugly and this scar is the grossest thing ever!” I told that to myself whenever older students such as 8th graders would look at me and grimace or snicker when I passed them with my big, bulky, powder pink cast or my raindrop-print, Oh-my-God-I’m-freaking-deformed brace. I was like Quasimodo from Notre Dame – too different to be happy – that is, until I read The Tail of Emily Windsnap. Your book changed my whole view of my body for the better.

I remember when my own friends would occasionally tease me about my scar and call me “Bad Back Girl,” “Cripple,” or even “Scar,” like from The Lion King, and it hurt to hear them say that. I knew they were joking, but they knew how I felt about my surgeries and my messed up spine. I always laughed along, but I had wanted to curl up in the fetal position and feel sorry for myself. Reading about Emily and her being insecure about her own body made me realize that I’m not alone. It made me feel like there was someone that, even though she wasn’t truly real, I could talk to about being
worried or feeling ugly. I would sometimes write small notes to Emily and then imagine my own version of her response. It may sound weird, but it was a lot like having an imaginary friend; it made me feel better.

When I got your book as a gift from my mom, I immediately fell in love, because at the time, I was obsessed with mermaids and had always thought they were beautiful girls with sparkling tails who had no imperfections whatsoever. You and Emily proved that thought wrong. Reading Emily’s story showed me that anyone could turn into something even a tiny bit beautiful, even a lanky girl with chicken legs such as herself. Not long after reading your book for probably the third time did I realize what kind of an impact it had on me and on my feelings. When Emily said, “I’m not a freak,” it reminded me of my own feelings of being called a freak and helped me to truly connect to her as a person and not as an imaginary character.

Reading your books gave me a reason to care about my body and not to hide. Instead of wearing bathing suits that would cover my back, I would wear ones that would tie in the back and show off my battle scar. I wouldn’t back down when people would ask about it, and I’d respond in a cool manner. Your books have also given me the want to read more about Emily, and to read more books that involve kids being different, because they give me more of a feeling of fitting in, and they help me to remember that no one’s perfect and we all have imperfections. I truly want to thank you for your books and for giving me a new hope of fitting in. Never stop writing!!

Eternally Grateful,



Catherine Butler said...

Sorry to see you go, Liz, but what a great reason!

Sue Purkiss said...

You'll be missed, Liz. What an amazing email!

Chitra Soundar said...

You'll be missed here. But that desk awaits you so you could open new hearts to possibilities! Good luck!

Heather Dyer said...

What a wonderful letter Liz, and good luck with your writing x

Penny Dolan said...

Good luck and good energies for your busy year ahead, Liz. A truly wonderful and inspiring letter. THAT is where writing matters!

Anne Booth said...

Good luck and congratulations - and also - what an inspiring letter!

Steve Gladwin said...

Go where your heart takes you Liz. And what a wonderful letter. All love and luck. x

Lynne Benton said...

A letter like that makes it all worthwhile, doesn't it? And I'll bet she's not the only one you've inspired, Liz. Well done you!