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Author Emma Heatherington: 'My mum died when I was 15 and recently my brother found her diary in the attic in which she'd written a beautiful song'

 

Ambitious writer: Emma Heatherington
Ambitious writer: Emma Heatherington
Close family: author Emma Heatherington from Donaghmore with her partner Jim McKee and children Jordyn, Jade, Adam, Dualta and Sonny James
Emma with Jim
Marti Pellow
Edna O'Brien
Rachel Dean

By Rachel Dean

In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to author Emma Heatherington (43), who shares a home with her children - Jordyn (22), Jade (18) and Adam (17), her partner Jim McKee, her stepson Dualta (18) and their son Sonny (4). They live in Donaghmore, Co Tyrone.

Q. Tell us about your  childhood

A. I grew up in the same village I live in now - Donaghmore in Co Tyrone. We lived in a housing estate called Ivy Bank.

I'm the eldest of six children. I have four sisters - Vanessa, Rachel, Lynne and Rebecca - and one brother, David. We're still exceptionally close and we see each other at least once a week.

We had a very humble and ordinary childhood, but I have lovely, happy memories of growing up. There were lots of friends and family around us.

My daddy Hugh worked as a paint sprayer. My late mum Geraldine stayed at home, obviously because there were so many of us! She passed away suddenly when we were all very young. Up until I was 15 - that's what age I was when mum died - we had lovely memories. The rest were even younger than me, so it was very tragic. Our whole childhood totally changed then. I'm probably one of the luckier ones because I had her for 15 years, whereas the younger ones didn't have her for so long, so my memories are probably a little fresher.

Looking back, I can see that a love for writing was always in me. A lot of my memories from childhood are of me sitting with a wee keyboard in my bedroom, making up my own songs. I used to create plays too and I made my friends act as the cast and I would try to make them rehearse. I was doing all that from a young age and it just stayed with me.

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I loved the creative side of things in school, like art, music, English, history and French - they were all the subjects that I was really drawn to and probably had a bit of a natural flair for. I found them enjoyable rather than challenging.

I just always had that creative streak.

But, looking back I can see that my mother had it as well. Maybe the opportunities that I have had weren't as available for her. But she was a great writer and, in fact, my brother recently found lyrics of a song mum wrote. He came across a diary of hers in the attic and she had written this beautiful song when she was very young. And David's a singer himself, so he put his own music to it and made it into an actual song. So, that's lovely to have and I can see that my writing likely came from her. My grandfather, my mum's father, was also a great storyteller. There's definitely a creative gene that runs in my family.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. Probably having that goal to be a published author and actually achieving it.

When you say you're going to do something like that as a career, people kind of roll their eyes and say, 'Yeah, right!' It's like saying you're going to be a pop star or a famous footballer. A lot of is down to chance and opportunity, and hard work obviously.

I'm very proud that I did pursue it and I took a lot of risks to do so. I've suffered greatly for it and I had to do without a lot of the time to make it happen. I left a really good full-time job in PR that I'd done for 10 years. It was a secure job with a pension scheme and all, but I had this itch that I just could not get rid of - that I wanted to write.

So I took a chance, left my job and I'm very proud I've worked hard enough to make it happen.

I hope that sets an example to my own children now, that if they want something badly enough, they can do it.

To set their goals high and do something they really want to do and get enjoyment out of.

Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?

A. I wish I had travelled more when I was younger. I had my children very young, which I wouldn't change for the world, but I'm really drumming it into them to wait before settling down and to go see the world instead. There's lots of places where I haven't been and still hope to go to someday.

Q. Any phobias?

A. Not that I can think of, no - thankfully not.

Q. The temptation you cannot resist?

A. I absolutely love a glass of red wine. One of my favourite things to do is to go out for dinner - I love a nice steak and a glass of wine. I try to do that when I can.

Q. Your number one prized possession?

A. I have my mother's wedding ring and it's very precious. That's something I hold on to very dearly.

I had her engagement ring too, but when my sister Rachel got engaged about seven years ago she took it and got it all polished up and that's what she wears now.

It's nice that it's been given that new, fresh purpose.

Q. The book that's most impacted your life?

A. One book that really stands out to me is On Writing by Stephen King. Obviously he's known for horror novels, but this is like a writer's bible. It's one of those books that you can pick up to read again and again. On Writing is a great tool for any budding writer, I highly recommend it.

Q. If you had the power or authority, what would you do?

A. At the moment, I would stop Brexit. I think it's been an absolute shambles and it's disgraceful how it's all been managed, so I would just pull the plug on it completely.

Q. What makes your blood boil every time without fail?

A. Sticking with politics I think there is a lot of corruption and lies in politics worldwide which have been exposed recently. I am a very trusting person and I find that a bit scary. If we don't believe some politicians are honest, how can we be expected to trust them?

Q. Who has most influenced you in life?

A. I tend to look up to anyone who has come from nothing and made a difference in the world. One of the people who has always stood out to me is Oprah Winfrey. She came from poverty and I think with her background, to become one of the most influential women in the world, is so inspirational.

Q. Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?

A. My first would be my mother. I'd love to catch up with her, let her know what we're all up to and see what she makes of it all.

Second would be the Irish writer Edna O'Brien. She's a completely fascinating lady to me - she's had such a colourful life and I would love to be in her company.

Thirdly, and a completely random one at that, my teenage heartthrob Marti Pellow from Wet Wet Wet, just for pure nostalgia.

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Marti Pellow

But also, because my mother was not a fan of his at all and I think it would be funny to have the two of them in the same room - me as a superfan of them both.

That would stir up some interesting conversation.

Q. The best piece of advice you ever received?

A. I recently read Michelle Obama's book and there's a quote in there that reads: 'When they go low, we go high'. It's really about not letting people bring you down in life. Always rise above negativity and nastiness.

When you're a writer and you're putting your work out there, you hope that people are going to enjoy it, but not everyone will, and that's fine. Everyone has different tastes. I think sometimes you have to develop a tough skin because you could get a nasty review. Sometimes people can be so horrible, just because they didn't enjoy a book, and they rip it to shreds, along with the author, in a review. I think that's unfair. That's happened before, so I just think like Michelle Obama and I rise above it.

Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A. Believe it or not, I still really like songwriting.

My partner Jim is a singer-songwriter and we are known to spend nights in our living room coming up with some songs. He plays guitar and I write the lyrics. Some of them are pretty nice. It's something I really enjoy doing as a hobby.

You never know, I might release a hit one day.

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Emma with Jim

Q. The poem that touches your heart?

A. I'm a big fan of Seamus Heaney - we share a birthday, which I was delighted to find out. I love all his work, but the first that comes to mind is the poem Scaffolding. It's a story of friendship and strength and it's one of my all-time favourites.

I also love Still I Rise by Maya Angelou, which is about the inner strength you have to find when you're facing a tough time.

They are two poems I could read over and over again.

Q. The happiest moment of your life?

A. I've had many happy moments in my life, there's no singular one. Obviously, the births of my children were exceptionally happy moments - you can't get any higher in life than that. Having a healthy baby is such a blessing.

I think because I've suffered loss before, I appreciate life every day. I realise now it's up to us to make every day as happy as we can. And I know some days aren't going to be happy, but every day is a blessing.

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Close family: author Emma Heatherington from Donaghmore with her partner Jim McKee and children Jordyn, Jade, Adam, Dualta and Sonny James

Q. And the saddest?

A. That would have to be the death of our mother. That day will always stand out.

And that period of our lives, how we got through those first moments without her like birthdays and anniversaries. When you lose a parent when you're young, every milestone and turn in the road that you come across, you always wonder what it would be like if they were by your side.

When I published my first book, the first person I wanted to show it to was my mum, or when the children were born, and even now, any wee moments of magic I have in my career. My daughter graduated and I just thought, 'Wouldn't she be so proud'. The saddest moment started that day, and, unfortunately, when you lose someone like that those wee moments of realisation and sadness continue on and you can never really get rid of them.

Q. The one event that made a difference in your life?

A. Writing and publishing The Legacy of Lucy Harte, which is about organ donation. It was my first novel to be released outside of Ireland. It opened me up to a whole new audience and really since that book was written, it's made such a difference in my life.

It introduced me to readers in America and Australia, and it was translated into German and Dutch. It gave me a huge confidence boost as a writer. Two years on and I still get messages about how my book has changed people's lives. To hear that something you've written has actually made a difference to someone - even if it is only one person - it makes you feel so good because you know what you're doing is right.

I've had messages about people's views on organ donation changing in a positive way and about people signing up to be organ donors after reading my book. That just takes my breath away.

Q. What's the ambition that keeps driving you onwards?

A. Being a writer is constantly about moving up to the next stage - once you reach one goal you want to reach the next one.

If you're published in Ireland, you want to be published in the UK and Ireland and when you've done that you want to be published in translations, and so on. My ambition is to see one of my books hit the big screen.

That's the ultimate goal.

Q. What's the philosophy you live by?

A. Something I've always lived by is, "If you don't ask, you don't get".

Q. How do you want to be remembered?

A. I want people to remember me with a smile.

Rewrite the Stars, written by Emma Heatherington, published by HarperCollins, will be available to buy from Asda, Sainsbury's, Eason and all good bookstores tomorrow.

It will be officially launched at a signing event in Cafe No.47, Main Street, Donaghmore, on Saturday, November 2 at 8pm, with special guest Gareth Dunlop.

Emma will be talking about her writing career at Dungannon Library tomorrow at 12.30pm. Admission is free and everyone is welcome.

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