Karen Honnor has had a life-long passion to write which has mostly focused upon her poetry and script writing in the past. With a few of her poems published and her scripts used by her local drama group, Karen always had a desire to write something more significant. Motherhood and a teaching career left little time for that but then beginning her blog and circumstances leading to her current career break would change all that.
With a long teaching career completed, Karen is now devoting time to her writing and to her family – husband, Stuart, grown-up children, Matthew and Zoe, and their furry cockapoo called Gizmo. Alongside all this, her usual commitments include much time with her drama group as Producer, Script-Writer and Choreographer. Though that has been put on hold for now, she remains in touch and promises to bring one of her bakes along when they next meet up in person.
Karen now has four books published, with her memoir and fiction writing supplementing her poetry. You can follow her writing adventure via her author website: karenhonnor.com
· Tell me about your books.
· When and how did you start writing?
In many respects, my books reflect my journey as a writer, particularly in how I have grown in confidence to complete the different genres of work. To explain further, I should tell you a little about how I have become a writer. I have written poetry from an early age and honed the art of script writing over many years, creating scripts for both the pupils I taught during my long teaching career and the local community drama group that I established in 2005. Throughout that time, I knew that given the opportunity, I would like to devote my time to writing poems and stories and to see if that elusive novel was there – the one that people say we all have within us.
A few years ago, feeling overwhelmed by work and family stresses, compounded by symptoms of perimenopause, I began to write a blog. I saw it as a way of getting my thoughts down and through this therapeutic exercise, perhaps others might have common experiences and it could spark a conversation. I was surprised by how much of a response I got and that started me thinking that perhaps I should collate my blog pieces together into something bigger. A friend suggested with a smile, that perhaps they would be a good base for that book that I kept saying I wanted to write. Well, she was right and in 2019, six months after leaving teaching to focus upon my writing, I published Finding My Way – a memoir. Reviewed favourably, this first book is described as an ‘account of personal discovery – written with humour and searing honesty’ and tackles issues I have faced through motherhood, midlife, menopause and its associated mental health issues.
Since the sharp learning curve of writing, publishing and promoting this first book, I gained confidence in my writing voice and felt more comfortable with showcasing my poetry. The result has been two collections published, the first emerged during the first lockdown in 2020 and the second was a reflective work, bringing together my thoughts from this last year. Both have helped me to process emotions and the need to connect with others. Both have given me the pleasure of hearing from readers, just how much the words have connected with them. That has been a joy, a little positive from this last year, to know that I might have helped others, in some small way.
The first poetry collection is called ‘Diary of a Dizzy Peri – Poems and thoughts on midlife, menopause and mental health.’ I guess it’s true to say that there has been a definite theme to my work. I have definitely become more aware of the need to speak up about both mental health and menopause, stop them being taboo topics and in so doing, empower people to seek help, have conversations and gain support.
The second poetry collection, released in February of this year, continues the theme of making connections. All the writing in this book has come out of the year that has been like no other, when we have all felt cut off from so much of our daily life and the positivity of social connection. ‘Click and Connect – A collection of hope’ contains poems, thoughts and a short story about community.
The last book to mention, took the most time, energy and hard work to complete – that novel that I set out to write, the one that I didn’t think I could ever actually manage to accomplish and yet, I did. ‘Unravelling –A Tale of Strength, Love and Dementia,’ was released in December 2020 as my first work of fiction. This tells the story of Doris, born in 1939 in the East End of London, a strong woman able to make the best of very little and to hold family together through many challenges. Until she faces her most difficult challenge, that is. With dementia encroaching, Doris desperately clings to her memories whilst she can still share them with her granddaughter, Lucy. Lucy too, becomes a strong woman through the unfolding story, piecing together fragments of her Gran’s life and finding herself along the way.
· What advice have you been given that has really helped you?
On my last day of teaching, a colleague wished me well and offered advice that a writing friend of his had told him. He likened the process of writing to plumbing in a new tap or bleeding a radiator,
“you have to let all the crap come through the system first until something good comes out.”
I have thought about that snatched moment in the school corridor several times. There are many versions of that sentiment in more famous quotes, like Jodi Picoult’s
“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
When I’m feeling particularly struck down by writer’s block or self-doubt that I won’t be able to write anything of worth, I return to this sentiment. My daughter, Zoe, has been very good at such moments too. When I had the initial seeds of an idea for my novel but doubted I had the ability and stamina to proceed, she was the one helping me to draw up a writing plan, to write a little of it every day, even if I then had to throw it away.
“Just write it, Mum. Sit down and start writing.”
I think that’s pretty sound advice.
· How has the past year affected your work?
I started 2020 feeling a little lost. Following the publication of ‘Finding My Way’ and the subsequent feelings of accomplishment, I was hit by the mocking feelings of imposter syndrome and found myself questioning if I was just part of a farce, was I really a writer and who really cared about what I had to say? No surprise then that my self-confidence had nose-dived. In an effort to combat this, I signed up to do a creative writing course, looking for inspiration and to build my skills, even though it took a tremendous effort on my part to walk through the classroom door for the first session. Once there, I began to find my writer’s voice again and to be excited by the writing exercises and where they took me. Then, the course came to an abrupt halt as lockdown began and I could not write anything – even though I had some ideas, one of which would eventually transform into my ‘Unravelling’ novel. Despite having enforced time on my hands, I couldn’t concentrate and felt unable to switch on the creativity spark.
Once again, I returned to my mantra of ‘just write something’ and gave myself permission to not worry about what form that writing took or where it might lead to. That’s when I found myself writing poetry regularly. Poetry has always helped me to process events in my life, to explore my emotions by releasing them onto the page. Once I’d started this, the poetry poured out and I began to shape it into my first poetry chapbook, ‘Diary of a Dizzy Peri.’
Mental health featured as a running thread here and I wanted to support others with that too so I linked up with a local mental health charity, donating a percentage of my sales during its release month, and giving a copy of the book to ‘The Local Diaries’ a Sutton community project documenting residents’ experiences of lockdown.
I guess the main lesson that I gained from this year was to give myself permission to go with what I need to do at a given time, rather than what I perceive I should be doing. There has been much from this year that has been incredibly hard to deal with, some aspects which will continue to impact upon our family for a long time to come. Yet, within all this, I have learnt to be more reflective, to make the most of inspiration as it comes along and to be kind to myself when the ‘writing wall’ hits again. Maybe I am accepting myself in my new role as a writer and with that comes the confidence to know that there will be something worth writing down, if I let it emerge naturally – after all, three books have found their way out of my mind, over the last year.
· What do you consider your greatest writing accomplishment? And which was your biggest challenge?
I am definitely most proud of completing ‘Unravelling.’ It seemed such an impossible dream for me, to actually conjure up a whole work of fiction, a task that I frequently told myself was beyond my capabilities. Other people may not understand the distinction, viewing what I had already achieved by that point as evidence enough that I was a writer, but to me this felt different. I thought of it as validation, I guess because it was truly created out of nothing. What started as a ten minute writing exercise on my course, to describe an artefact in a museum, grew into multiple layers of thought – created characters, settings and plot that only existed in my mind.
My biggest challenge with completing the work was my nagging imposter syndrome whispering in my ear each day, alongside my lack of experience in creating a cohesive story on a scale much larger than the essays and stories I liked to write at school and university. The phrase goes “write what you know” so there is definitely a part of me entwined in the storyline. My personal experience in caring for my father as we lost him to dementia, clearly seeped into the situations that my characters found themselves in. Another way that writing has enabled me to process emotions, but also a useful layer of research to draw upon to give the characters and story depth and realism.
As the story emerged, the characters inhabited my head and relied upon me to do them justice. I hope that is reflected in what the reader makes of them. I want above all, to speak up for all those struck by dementia – to tell the story of the wonderful people that they were, always so much more than the perception given by this disease. The whole story begins with a mundane, everyday object – a bus ticket. I thought about all the mundane objects that are touched by ordinary people every day. Ordinary people with ordinary lives, but isn’t it the case that such ordinary lives are often sprinkled with extraordinary moments to overcome, moments that shape those lives and characters? Doris was just one of those ordinary, yet extraordinary people.
· What would you do if you didn’t write?
I have always written in some way or another, whether that was alongside my teaching or during this more focused writing time. I cannot imagine giving it up, even if I return to the more formal world of work in the near future.
· Has a book really touched you, made you rethink your views on life, and if so, what was it?
There are several books that stay with me for a while after having read them, mulling over issues raised or wondering what the characters would go on to do. I think though, for a lasting impression, I have to go back to my secondary school days in the 1980s, reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee. I can recall the classroom and an inspirational teacher, bringing the text to life, but mainly I recall the feeling of being drawn into the book. Even now, years after reading it, I am imagining myself walking the street with Scout and Jem, smelling the camellias and being scared of the strange house on the corner, the one where Boo Radley lived. That feeling of sharing the characters reaction to the injustice of the story and being aware of the strength of those who choose to speak up for those whose circumstances prevent them from doing so themselves, to stand up for what is right and just and fair. Writing this now, I am reminded of just how important this message remains. I might just have to read the book again.
· What are your current projects? What should we be looking out for?
I have made a conscious effort this year to return more frequently to my blog, which I post on my website as ‘Midlife Musings.’ It would be great to grow my subscribers there, so readers can follow my work and see what I am writing about. The blogs explore my thoughts on a variety of subjects, as I see them, and often feature my poetry, as and when it makes sense to include them. I have also started a service called ‘Pocket Poems,’ sending handwritten poems through the post to brighten a recipient’s day. So far, these are proving to be quite popular.
As for a next project, I feel that I’m really returning to my roots and focusing upon my poetry, I would like to work towards another collection though am unsure yet what the common thread might be for that. I have a Cornish holiday booked in a few weeks’ time – perhaps inspiration will hit me then. I have always felt an affinity with the sea and am sure I was a mermaid in an alternate reality – is that a theme worth exploring?
· What is your ultimate dream as a writer?
Let’s be honest, we would all like a best seller, wouldn’t we? It would be amazing to be sat at a book signing event with a queue of eager readers wanting their copies of my book scribbled in by my pen, but that is the stuff of pipedreams. A more realistic wish is to continue writing material that readers connect with in some way. I received a thankyou card this week from a reader who ordered a ‘Pocket Poem.’ Her response made me cry, happy tears, knowing that I had written something for her that she now considers a treasured possession. That sort of response is worth more than a best seller’s ranking, isn’t it?
· What advice would you give new writers?
Write for you, what you want to write, what you would like to read and try not to get caught up in what others tell you the rules of being a writer are. Some people like to have a daily word count to achieve, some like to have a specific time of day or place to write in, some will list all the things that your writing should contain. The only ‘should’ I would advocate, is that however you do it, the writing process and content you choose, ‘should’ feel right for you.
And of course, as my daughter said,
“Sit down and start writing.”
You’ll never know what you’re capable of, if you don’t make a start.
All images belong to author.
Karen Honnor – April 2021