Dealing with bereavement on daily basis helped Tanya fulfil lifelong dream of publishing novel
Bangor-born Tanya Ravensworth trained as a nurse like her mother, but always wanted to be a writer. She chats to Stephanie Bell about her first book
As a child brought up in a home where storytelling round the table was a family pastime, it is hardly surprising that Tanya Ravensworth grew up with a love for reading and creative writing. Like most authors though she initially pursued a traditional career following her mother into nursing while always yearning to return to her real passion for writing.
The chance came when she took a career break to have her two children - and this month she is celebrating the launch of her first novel, Jacques, a story about a French orphan.
Born in Bangor but now living in Cheshire with her husband Richard (54), a nurse, and two children, Hanna (20), who is studying zoology at Sheffield University, and son Rory (16), an apprentice carpenter, Tanya says it is still something of a surprise to her that she has finally realised her dream of becoming a published author.
It has taken her several years - often battling self doubt - to get to this point and she couldn't be more delighted.
"It has all happened over a period of time and I have kind of eased into it, getting bits of work published and you do wonder at times 'have I got what it takes to do this and is my writing good enough?'" she says.
"You discover it is about confidence and believing in your own voice and your work and I had brilliant support from family and friends who encouraged me to keep going, which was really important when I was flagging.
"Now that the book is published I am delighted, although it still feels a bit surreal."
Having followed in her mum's footsteps to train as a nurse and later becoming a bereavement counsellor, Tanya brings a wealth of life experience to her writing.
Tanya says that she enjoyed an idyllic childhood growing up in Northern Ireland in a family of two girls and two boys.
Both of her parents - dad Jack Dalzell, a school teacher and mum Margaret, who is a nurse and also ran her own nursing home - have been major influences in her life.
"I had a real people focused upbringing. Mum was a very dedicated nurse and in her early 20s ran a small nursing home. She was a very confident person to take something like that on and then in her 50s she took on another one in Newtownards," says Tanya.
"Nursing was always really important to her and my grandmother was also a nurse. My dad taught English and both were real influences overall on my life.
"I had a great childhood with rich experience of the outdoors and nature which is still very important for me. We were a family of storytellers and we were always telling stories round the table and reading.
"My parents taught me to be an observer and to learn from people and appreciate people's different personalities and to be open minded and not judge. I think that is what motivated me to get into counselling as I always felt people deserve to be heard and listened to."
Tanya studied modern languages at St Andrew's University in Scotland, but after graduating decided to change direction and trained as a nurse which is how she met her husband. She worked in hospitals in Scotland and south Wales before finally settling in Macclesfield in Cheshire.
Her first job introduced her to the extreme end of nursing when she found herself in intensive care dealing with patients with head injuries.
"I was thrown in at the deep end. There was a lot of one to one work with families who had suffered all kinds of acute loss of family members or changes in personality or disabilities that come with head injuries," she says. "It was a background which served me well when I decided to train as a counsellor.
"I always felt when I was working in a hospital ward that there was never time to sit and talk and listen to patients and that too drew me to counselling."
Tanya worked for a bereavement counselling agency and while she admits it was very tough work, she also found it extremely rewarding.
"It is a pretty stressful job but it is a real privilege to listen to people and how they manage to cope in really dreadful times in their lives," she says.
"The work involved a lot of young people - quite often they had been in motorbike accidents which was a very, very sudden blow to the family.
"Then, on the other hand, I would have been dealing with elderly people who were the longest surviving members of their families which was very poignant, too."
While her work was challenging and rewarding, the draw of creative writing never left Tanya.
She first started to write as a young girl and vividly remembers one of her proudest moments when she won a prize at a local Speech and Drama festival for her poetry while in Primary 7.
"I always loved words and knowing what they mean and I kept little notebooks and journals when I was a child and there was something magical about that," she says. "I loved being imaginative and my sister and I would make our own little theatre productions using our toys.
"I was in my 30s when I took a break to look after my children and returned to writing with short stories and poems. I also did some workshops with children in schools putting together little collections of their work to celebrate it."
Getting her poems published in UK poetry magazines spurred her on to continue writing and her confidence was given the boost it needed when she won the Cheshire Prize for Literature.
"That was an absolutely wonderful feeling and gave me confidence to consider my novel," Tanya says.
Her sister Susan and her husband Paul run a very successful literary agency in Bangor called the Feldstein Agency, which has a number of successful local authors on its books.
Although it meant that Tanya did not face the usual uphill struggle to find an agent she stresses that the fact that her sister was representing her in no way influenced her publishing deal with Twenty7 Books.
"I was very lucky that my sister and brother-in-law run an agency in Bangor and agreed to take me on," she says. "But they had to treat me like any other client. It is a very competitive business and there is lots and lots of waiting to see what is going to happen.
"When Twenty7 Books accepted my novel I was on cloud nine, but at the same time a big part of me realised it was really important to remain grounded. There is an element of me that wants to celebrate it but at the same time I wouldn't want success to go to my head."
Jacques is adult fiction and is described as "an uplifting and moving story of love and loss".
The book tells the story of Jacques Lafitte, a young French boy who is orphaned and torn away from everything he knows. Forced to move to England to live with his guardian - the pompous and distant Oliver Clark - Jacques finds himself in a strange country, and a strange world. As years pass Jacques becomes part of the Clark family. But then his feelings for Oliver's daughter Rebecca begin to surpass mere sibling affection. A development that has the power to bring them together, or tear the family apart.
Before embarking on her first novel, Tanya started writing short stories and poetry for both adults and children. She has published a collection of short stories for women, and has also been short-listed and published in the Cheshire Prize anthologies.
And in 2014/15 she was delighted when her children's poem, Badger, picked up the Cheshire Prize for Literature in her adopted home.
Reflecting on her recent success, she says: "It is a strange feeling to finally have a novel published. It is aimed at adults although my daughter and her friends who would be in their late teens have read it.
"I had a book launch in Waterstones in Cheshire last week and my whole family were there to support me and it was just brilliant. They are all dead chuffed for me.
"It is a very nice feeling and at times an overwhelming feeling but really good."
Tanya, who comes home for a visit every few months, was back in her home town of Bangor as a newly published author taking part in a workshop as part of the Aspects Arts Festival this month.
She is already working on her next book and is in talks about getting it and possibly a third published.
- Her debut novel Jacques is available on Amazon