'Being a teen mum didn't stop me from pursuing my dreams - now I hope my new book will inspire'
With the New Year comes fresh resolutions and Co Tyrone author Emma Heatherington, explains why setting goals is important to us all, and a theme she has used in her latest life-affirming novel
I'm a self-confessed list maker and I love it. I enjoy making big lists, little lists, important and not so important lists and ticking off what I've done as I go along. In fact, if truth be told, I'm guilty of adding little achievements (even if it's just a housework or shopping list), that I've already completed, just to get a kick out of that oh so satisfactory tick.
It might be a writer thing that goes alongside being a stationery or book geek, but I truly believe there is no better way of pulling focus into your everyday life and your long-term plans, by setting goals of all sizes and really going for them.
New Year is always a popular time for setting such goals, and while most of us forget our usual 'must lose weight', or 'must stop drinking' resolutions as soon as we get back into our post-holiday routine, no doubt we will all have our own personal aims for the year ahead in mind, if not on paper, or in a new hardback book written in a new pen like I will - my daughter bought it for me - she knows me too well.
The first time I made a conscious effort to meet certain goals was when at the tender age of 19, I found out I was pregnant with my first-born, just four years after the very untimely death of my young mother, and just one year into my university degree.
The timing was less than perfect, and whether we like it or not, being a teen mum brings with it an automatic stigma attached, but I was determined not to let that stick. No way.
As my bump grew, so did my determination to reach my goals and I set myself three specific things I wanted to do by the time my baby was one-year-old.
I would pass my driving test, I would get back to university and pick up where I left off with my degree and finish it, and - on a more vain level - I would fit back into my size 10, white Levi jeans.
It was the Nineties after all, so Levi jeans were very, very important...
Reaching these goals was no walk in the park. I remember taking my then baby girl, Jordyn, on the bus to register my place back at the University of Ulster, a couple of months before her first birthday.
The struggle I had with a pram and a crying baby, when my peers were more concerned about what pub they would go to that afternoon, made my challenge very real indeed. The driving test was aided when my colleagues in my part-time job bought me some lessons for my 21st birthday, and the white jeans - well, with a little help from a good old Rosemary Conley VHS, this turned out to be the easiest of the three.
Twenty years later, at the grand age of 40 and a bit, I still believe in the power of setting goals, and this year I have shared that belief in the plot of my latest novel, The Legacy of Lucy Harte, which tells the story of Belfast girl Maggie O'Hara, who has, you might say, lost her way in life.
In her mid-thirties, Maggie finds out her job is on the line, her husband has left her and she is living alone in a flat with not much more than a bottle of wine or three for company.
Maggie, at her lowest of lows, knows that life can change in a heartbeat, so when she receives the bucket list of Lucy Harte, a little girl who died in her teens and saved Maggie's life through organ donation, she sets out to achieve Lucy's goals, and her own life as a result, takes a huge turn for the better.
It's a bitter sweet story about the importance of living life to the full, taking chances and a reminder to appreciate our time here when we have it, as we don't know what is around the corner.
You won't find me at the gym this year, so I won't say that I will be, but I do plan on making more time to enjoy the great outdoors and to get off the sofa and away from the laptop for a few hours a day.
I won't pledge not to continue to enjoy a glass of wine, because it's one of the things I really love at the end of a busy week of children and writing.
A goal I do have this year is to go to more places I have never been, with Nashville topping the list - that's if I can raise the funds and get a babysitter.
The one thing I want for my own children is for them to travel lots and see the world as much as they possibly can, and to continue to do so for all their years, so that's a long-term goal for them. Career wise, I plan to keep creating new work, by writing two more novels for Harper Impulse by the end of the year, which is no mean feat with four teenagers and a toddler to work around.
But my big dream goal (there has to be at least one of those after all) is to attract the interest of a film producer for The Legacy of Lucy Harte. It's good to have big dreams, as well as everyday aims, so I'm putting it out there.
I have been writing books for 10 years now and have often struggled financially for my art, but after a four-year hiatus, I do feel like I have been given a brand new opportunity through The Legacy of Lucy Harte, which has already brought so much positivity my way, having just learned it is to be published by HarperCollins in Germany and Holland at the end of the year.
I see a lot of myself in the character of Maggie O'Hara, and I hope that other readers see themselves in her guise, too, and the feedback so far is that she is a character that resonates with many women.
I hope that it might help give readers new direction in their own lives where needed, as well as highlighting the important subject of organ donation, which is a massive theme in the story in its own right.
Making gentle, little affirmations, if not big goals, is a healthy way to attract positivity in our lives, and it's so important to have dreams to aspire to.
They say life begins at 40, and though I have certainly had many challenges up to now, I have also been blessed so dearly with many amazing people, great opportunities in my life and lots of stories to tell. My biggest wish of all for this year is to keep having the health, the love and the experiences to tell many more.
- The Legacy of Lucy Harte by Emma Heatherington, published by HarperImpluse (HarperCollins), is released on Friday at Amazon.co.uk; available in paperback from next Thursday, priced £7.99.