“They called me an author!”

Alison Bender   Personal Women/ motherhood  

My highly commended certificate My 'highly commended' certificate

“They just called me an author!” That sounds nice. I have never been called an author before.

I’ve just been shortlisted for a writing competition (The inaugural Vikki Orvice prize) and to be honest I feel a little emotional. I have kept a diary since I was about eight years old (I love ‘offloading’) but I have never tried to write anything properly other than the odd magazine column and I didn’t know if I could do it. I was feeling so many emotions when I finally pressed the ‘submit’ button, a mixture of fear, embarrassment and also excitement, and to hear I have made the final five makes me want to sob, really, really hard.

It all began 12 months ago at a Women In Football event at Twitter HQ. WIF had just launched their #whatif campaign, a really clever initiative to help the women’s game where businesses pledge various things to make the landscape better for women in football and the women’s game. So many great pledges came through, Like UEFA doubling their financial support of women’s football, and one of them was from the publisher Floodlit Dreams who pledged to publish a book about football by a female author. At first I didn’t consider it at all, I’m not a writer, but the advert clearly stated it was open to anyone as long as they are female and it’s about football.  

The biggest problem was my current situation. I had a one-year-old baby and very little time, but I’ve never let lack of time stop me before, I’d just have to learn to be more efficient. I figured if I did a little each day I could get it done, I knew I had to get cracking.

So I began, right there and then, little by little. Every day while she napped I would race around my house like a lunatic, cleaning, washing, doing my chores and then any time left over I would sit at my laptop. As soon as she woke I’d go back to ‘mummy duty’ wait until evening and carry on.

Around about the same time my husband had decided to give up 20 years in finance to start his own business and so many evenings he was travelling or working. I had to be home with the kids so it was nice to have something for me to do, to really get into. I remember he was in New York for ten days and I just wrote into the night every single night, and loved it. Going through my past, finally taking the time to appreciate what I have done and rather selfishly just re-living that time.

When you are married and you have children so much of your time is simply getting ‘life’ done, cooking dinner, cleaning, etc. so it was lovely to find time to do something creative (rather than watching series on TV). I enjoyed my time alone, time I haven’t had for years and years. I was driven by the fear of writers block, I’d heard that most authors suffer from it and so while I was on a roll, I just wrote and wrote. I absolutely loved it.

I decided I wanted to write a book about grit and determination, chasing your dreams and not letting anyone stop you, it was my story really, but I wanted it to be a book to inspire and encourage rather than a regular autobiography.

The clarity came after I did a careers talk in a school in Singapore, I realised most of the things I was telling the students were clichés and obvious to me but they were absolutely true, and they told me how helpful it had been. I just wish someone had been able to share these lessons with me and so I wanted to pass on the advice.

The more I wrote and reflected the more I started to see a pattern, I had always been the same from day one, never quite good enough but not letting that stand in the way. I quickly realised that talent was not the most important thing, but focus, determination and setting goals. I know there are lots of books around about this type of thing, but I feel there is room for one that’s about real life, my life.

I went to a really academic grammar school and you need to pass your 11+ to get in. The truth is (and something I shared with no one at the time) I didn’t actually get in at first. I had to wait until a few people dropped out and got in on the second sweep. It might seem irrelevant, but it is the story of my life and what has kept me striving. Sometimes if you know you are starting from a lower base, you have to work harder but can still end up in the same place.

20 years later I’m still doing what I love doing and always wanted to do and managing to support my family with the career I was told never to pursue.

So this is my story, it’s the story of grit, taking the path less travelled to reach your destination and not giving up. I was a shy child who hated reading aloud in class and here I am speaking to thousands of people on radio and television, how on earth can that happen?  

I think it’s a really important time for book like this, and the more I write, the more I know my story needs to be told. It covers topics like imposter syndrome that so many women suffer from. I open up about some of the challenges women face, discrimination, sexism and safety issues. It’s also about the struggles of motherhood, of which there are many. If you read my blogs you’ll know how passionate I am about honesty and truth when it comes to motherhood.  

Tomorrow night I’ll go back to twitter HQ to find out if I have won, if I have, my book will be published which is more exciting than words, but if it does not (and that’s kind of what I’m expecting) I guess it fits into my narrative, I’m not giving up, I’m going to try and get my book published, why give up a habit of a lifetime eh?

*Since writing this post I found out I did not win, but I did receive ‘Highly Commended’ and was told my book should be published “sooner rather than later.” As I walked onto the stage to collect my certificate I blubbed; a whole year of writing and an entire career of struggles spilling out onto my pages, streamed down my face, but they were happy tears. I’m really excited to talk to publishers and anyone in the industry that might be able to help. If you know anyone in that field (or if you are) please get in touch, I’d love to chat. I’m happy to provide my synopsis plus any of my completed chapters.

The Working title is ‘The Real Life: TV, Motherhood and me’ but I’ve got a few other suggestions: ‘Be The Anomaly’ or ‘Where did it all go right? (I haven’t messed it up…yet.)’ I’m still working on it!

Ali x