I’m so pleased to be featuring The Punch and Judy Girl by Sheila Newberry on Linda’s Book Bag. Sheila has kindly written a guest post all about how she began as a writer that I’m delighted to share with you today.
Published on 4th May 2017 by Bonnier Zaffre, The Punch and Judy Girl is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.
The Punch and Judy Girl
CAUGHT BETWEEN FAMILY AND DUTY – CAN SHE FOLLOW HER DREAM?
After the death of her father, a much-loved Punch and Judy man, May Moon packs her bags and moves to the seaside in the hope of continuing his legacy.
Already tasked with looking after her younger sister, May little imagines her summer will grow tougher still. Her long absent mother has finally returned – and with an agenda all of her own.
But as May struggles to balance her family’s competing demands – and honour her father’s legacy – she’s surprised to discover her passion for performing grows ever stronger.
As the world around her begins to change, might she finally be able to find a dream of her own?
A Guest Post by Sheila Newberry
A few years after the end of the war, we girls at grammar school who were about to launch ourselves into the world of work were questioned about our choice of future careers. Most girls wanted to be teachers or nurses, one a scientist, all choices which were greeted with approval. When it was my turn, I blushed and said simply “I want to be a writer…” A pause, then came the answer: “But Sheila, don’t you know there is a shortage of paper?” I have been conscious of that ever since…
I learned to read and write at three years old, but my mother said I was telling stories to myself in my cot. She and Dad used to listen outside the door. I guess it was my way of getting off to sleep. I was a premature baby, almost born in an Austin 7 en route to Suffolk where Mum was going to care for her sister who had just had a baby herself! She made it to the top step of the stairs at Auntie’s house and I decided to put in an appearance! I was bright yellow with jaundice and baptised hurriedly.
When I was seven I entertained the school on a Friday afternoon in the village hall to a long-running saga about a black-eyed pirate called Bill. I made it up as I went along and was so absorbed in the story I wasn’t self-conscious, until the hall caretaker told my aunt (with whom we stayed at times during the war, after being bombed out) how he put down his bucket and mop, and like my parents, “listened outside the door.” Then I felt too shy to continue. However, I was writing all the time. Shortage of paper then indeed: kind friends cut the flyleaves from old books for my use! I wrote my first “book” before I was ten, in purple ink, all sixty pages of it, probably purple prose as well!
Later, when I was fifteen, I won an essay prize. The subject was Waste Paper, just up my street. I was an avid collector, especially of ancient comics, though my mother pointed out to me that there wasn’t much point in replying to the reader who wanted a penfriend, as “she must be thirty by now!” I nearly didn’t enter this inter-schools competition set up by the local paper, because I had dashed off pages in my usual awful scrawl, “You let your pen run away with you,” as Dad said. The Head mistress appeared with my script and said: “The deadline is tomorrow. Stay after school and rewrite this with no blots!” Reluctantly, I did, and my form tutor kindly delivered my effort by hand. I thought no more of it until one morning I was puzzled by girls coming up to me, and saying “Well done!”
I had come first out of 3,000 entries. I was embarrassed because the Head Girl had come second…. Years later, my old Head Teacher wrote to me, “You have a gift, Sheila, I do hope you use it!” Well, I try, I really do, Miss C.
I married young and John and I brought up our five boys and four girls on a smallholding in the Weald of Kent. The house was in a poor state of repair, we had mice under the floorboards and bats in the loft, but we loved it all. We had numerous pets (as well as the “pests”) – I never stopped writing, and the children were a great inspiration! I wrote articles on family life for magazines, and short stories for the American bible-belt for children. With the welcome dollars we purchased a large portable swimming pool. The children all learned to swim in it, but all I could do was float in an old tyre with the current baby on my lap!
I was also village correspondent while we lived in that village. Emboldened, I began to write romantic short stories, set in the past, and had wonderful feedback from readers. My editor told me I should write books, “because we all want to know what happened next!” So I did.
I will go on writing, I hope, until I drop. I am writing the biography of my great-grandmother Emma, a story-teller herself, and a remarkable woman. I have reached 1862 right now – it was entitled Nelly Has Made You a Chocolate Cake, but is now The Forget-Me-Not Girl. There are many more stories to write – and thank you for reading this!
(And thank you Sheila for sharing this story with us!)
About Sheila Newberry
Sheila Newberry was born in Suffolk and spent a lot of time there both before and during the war. She wrote her first ‘book’ before she was ten – all sixty pages of it – in purple ink. Her family has certainly been her inspiration and she has been published most of her adult life. She spent forty years living in Kent with her husband John on a smallholding, and has nine children and twenty-two lively grandchildren. They retired back to Suffolk where Sheila still lives today.
All of Sheila’s books are available here.
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