Author Sheila Mary Taylor tells how tragedy in her life inspired her to write, how she takes a photo of the sunrise every morning and how at the age of 83 she is about to have another book published in December…
BY SHEILA MARY TAYLOR
Sheila Mary Belshaw. Sheila Mary Taylor is my writing name and my maiden name, though my first books were published under my married name Sheila Belshaw
I am 83 but feel no older than 43. Some days it’s 23. I have decided to live until I’m 103, that gives me a good 20 more years to keep writing and editing.
I live in Wilmslow, Cheshire
But I also live for part of the year in Menorca and in Cape Town, chasing the sun. And sometimes in Abu Dhabi, with my youngest son who lives and works there. Lots of inspiration for my writing in all my wonderful abodes.
Book names, publication dates, who books are published by.
Pinpoint (psychological legal/crime thriller), by Sheila Mary Taylor, published in 2011 by Taylor Street Books, San Francisco
Count to Ten (memoir), by Sheila Mary Taylor, published in 2011 by Taylor Street Books, San Francisco (First published in 2000 as Fly With a Miracle)
Eldorado (novella) by Sheila Mary Taylor, published 2012 by Taylor Street Books
How many other books have you published?
In the 1990s I had four romances published by Thorpe Publishing Ltd, under my married name – Sheila Belshaw. These are out of print now, but I am planning to re-write them and have them published as e-books and paperbacks.
In 2000 I had the first edition of the memoir about my son published by Denor Press, London. Fly With a Miracle, by Sheila Belshaw.
My mother, Dora Taylor wrote three novels in the 1950s, which were never published. Thirty years after her death I resurrected them, edited them and had them published by Penguin in 2008 and 2009. This project kick-started my editing career.
What are the books about?
Pinpoint is a psychological legal/crime thriller, set in Manchester. It is about a criminal lawyer who thinks her new murder client might be her long-lost twin brother, opening the floodgates of her lost memory that begins returning to her like a dripping tap until finally she remembers the one ghastly event that caused her amnesia.
Count to Ten is the true story of my son, whose burning ambition was to be a pilot. When he was diagnosed at eighteen with an aggressive form of bone cancer, he was told that his leg must be amputated and given a fifteen percent chance of survival. His whole world crashed around him. But Andrew is a fighter . . .
Eldorado is a kind of medicinal mystery, set in Ghana where we lived for a few years. It was inspired by my horror of the plundering of priceless rain forests, the side effect of which was to remove the precious jungle canopy which nurtured rare medicinal plants which could grow nowhere else, and by the greed of the giant pharmaceutical companies who did nothing to remedy this loss.
When did you start writing/what gave you the idea to write a book?
My urge to write began when I was very little, and at the age of ten I had a little poem published in the Cape Times, the daily newspaper in Cape Town. But having academic parents who were both published writers, I always felt I would not be able to become a writer unless I too had a degree. What finally triggered my pen was when my youngest son was struck down with teenage cancer. I would sit by his bedside, scribbling down the incredibly dramatic events of his illness, until one day a doctor friend asked to see these scribblings. Next day he came to me and said he thought they should be published as no one had ever written anything like this before.
How long did it take to write?
Count to Ten (Fly with a Miracle) took about a year to write, typing up those scribbled notes and putting them into some kind of order, but I was living on my own in London while Andrew was undergoing treatment, while my husband was working in Zambia, so our lives were already heavily disrupted. It was an extremely difficult time, a time when we needed to be together. I lived alone in a rented flat, where Andrew would come in between his many bouts in hospital.
I didn’t set out to write Count to Ten. It more or less demanded to be written, and I suppose it was in a way cathartic. Count to Ten came to me through a tragic event in our lives, when our youngest son, on the brink of accepting a prestigious RAF scholarship to learn to fly and thus fulfill his lifelong ambition, was diagnosed with a particularly virulent teenage bone cancer. To quote Mr Justin P Cobb, Mch FRCS, Chair of Orthopaedics, Imperial College , London, “Count to Ten is an uplifting story of personal courage, astonishing achievements and the triumph of medicine and the human spirit over an appalling illness.” This happened when I was in my mid fifties, so I was a very late starter as a writer, even though the love of books had always been with me and even the desire to write.
So here I am, at the age of 83, being published, still writing, and now also working as a full time editor for a publishing company. However, this further triggered my pen and was the start of my writing career. Realising that I didn’t after all need to have a degree in English Lit to be able to write, I wrote four romances, had them accepted for publication, then became more adventurous and started writing Pinpoint. This took several years, because in between starting it and finishing it, I unearthed the three unpublished manuscripts of my mother’s fiction, edited them and had them published by Penguin. My mother was then awarded the South African Literary Posthumous Award, of which I am tremendously proud. Editing those three books was the start of my very late career as an editor, and I now work full time as an editor for Taylor Street Books of San Francisco, a job I absolutely adore.
How did you get published?
In the case of Count to Ten I sent the first edition to several agents, one of which took me on but only tried to sell it to six publishers and then gave up. I was then picked up directly by the medical publishers – Denor Press in London. With Pinpoint, I sent it to an agent who was unable to place it, and was then very lucky to meet my present publisher and employer through the Harper Collins website – Authonomy. We both had books on this site and when Pinpoint gained its gold star – but not an offer of a publishing contract – Tim Hewtson offered to publish it. This was my big lucky break. Unlike the big publishers, Tim was prepared to take a chance on my books, and Pinpoint and Count to Ten have both been on several Amazon Kindle best seller lists.
Where are your books on sale?
They are all available from Amazon:
Don’t be swayed by market trends. Write what you want to write. Write it from the heart and it will find a market. In this new digital age strict rules for a particular genre are falling away. Above all, readers love a good story, well told, and especially something that touches the emotions.
I get up at 6 a.m. every morning, work on my editing or write for several hours before the hustle and bustle of life catches up with me. I take a photograph of the sunrise every morning, as I find this very uplifting. I sometimes load it onto Facebook – if it’s a good photo. My life has been enriched, first by having the tragedy of my son being close to death, and learning that with love and determination, anything can be achieved, being parted from my husband for several years because of this and then the wonder of coming together again, but above all rejoicing in the fact that it was this dramatic happening in my life that started my writing career. Not only did it provide the material for (Fly with A Miracle) Count to Ten, but also influenced my just published novella – Eldorado. And it has had a huge bearing on the way I look at life, and on the new novel I am working on now – Dance to a Tangled Web, to be published in December this year.
Have you had publicity for your books?
The publicity I’ve had for my books has been done by my wonderful publisher Tim Hewtson of Taylor Street Publishing. During any spare time I have (precious little!) I try to give my books as much publicity as possible through Facebook and the various writers’ groups I belong to. I had an article written about me in November last year by a reporter for the Wilmslow Express. All my books have several times been on Amazon Kindle best seller lists. There is also an article about me, my life and my writing and my books, in the August edition of the Zambian magazine – The Bulletin & The Record.
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