This is me in my day job, all dressed up in a green tutu with glued-on flowers, as the interpreter fairy, ready to go on stage for Midsummer Nights Dream. This was quite a unique performance though because the entire cast had special needs and King Oberon was profoundly Deaf. That’s what I do for a living – I’m a sign language interpreter. My legs were shaking at the point the photograph was taken,my smile looks a bit deranged and I have to admit, I was nervous as hell. I’d spent the last few months translating the script from English into BSL and rehearsing three days a week with the cast, who despite having learning disabilities or autism learned the whole script and performed the play to a packed theatre. I don’t think there was dry eye in the house by the end of the evening. It was a massive personal achievement for all of them and I consider myself extremely privileged to work with such an amazing group of young people. It has also been brilliant experience for me. Growing up, I was painfully shy; that’s why I loved writing so much: I could just lock myself away from everyone and let myself go. Back then, going on stage would have been my worst nightmare. I had to force myself to do a job like this, but I’m so glad I did.
Then just before Christmas, an agent telephoned me. “I love your manuscript,” she said. She didn’t usually like ‘that’ kind of book but she couldn’t put it down. “I presume you want to do this full time?” she asked.
I hesitated. “I don’t know.” I eventually said. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so honest; that was the last I ever heard from her.
The truth is though, even with the beautiful thing that is Facebook, writing can be a very solitary occupation. It has to be, because of the level of concentration involved. Now that I’ve got over most of that awkward shyness, I actually like being around other people all day, and I think it’s important as a writer that you go and experience things, meet new people and get to know them. Even with a job and a young child, I’ve still managed to write two and a half novels and a handful of children’s picture books over the past five years. Insomnia can be a great thing sometimes!
Sign language interpreting has taken me on an incredible journey. I’ve worked on child protection cases, had to impart bad news to patients on hospital wards, been involved with film festivals and volunteered in Lourdes, oh – and it’s also taken me six years of training. I can’t imagine putting my hands down and never signing again. Then again, I can’t imagine closing up my laptop and never writing again. I’m just as dedicated to both and have always thought that if you really want to do something you can always find time to do it.