Jemma lives in Linlithgow with her 8-year-old son Archie and when not trying to juggle childcare, housework and writing, works part-time as a web editor for the University of Edinburgh. Jemma won Gingerbread’s ‘One in four’ new writer competition, and will have her debut novel The Truth About My Mother published on February 20th.
It started with a text message from a friend. Back in 2017, Hannah sent me a photo of an advert for a writing competition with a focus on the positive aspects of single parenting, highlighting the fact that 1 in 4 families in the UK are headed by a single parent. She made me promise to enter, that she thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to start working on my lifelong dream of becoming a writer.
She was right. At 10.08pm on the competition deadline day, spurred by the notion of the guilt I’d feel if I went back on a promise to a friend, I pressed send on an email that has changed my life over the last couple of years in many ways.
When I discovered I’d won, I was in shock. I genuinely hadn’t expected to receive a response to my entry, but to be the winner and to listen to all the wonderful comments from the judges, was a dream come true. Then the reality hit home; I had a book to write. I’d struggled to find time to put together the five thousand words required for the competition, and now I was facing a mountain made up of a further eighty thousand words, at least.
My synopsis hadn’t been fully developed and so, when I was given a deadline to submit the next thirty thousand words of the book, I spent every spare moment scribbling away ideas and typing up whatever I could, the story often forming as I wrote.
Having never written anything to length before, at times I found the task overwhelming. I have always believed that I would find a way to write at some point in my life, but to have a day job, a young son to look after and house to keep, while trying to bring such a huge piece of work together, led me to a point where I doubted my ability to complete the task.
As a single parent I’m fiercely proud of my ability to handle life and all it throws at me, and I usually ask for as little help as possible to achieve this. However, the opportunity the competition presented made me rethink my attitude. I found myself in a position where, if I didn’t ask for more help, I would potentially mess up the chance I’d been given. I discovered a wonderful thing. The people that care about Archie and I were waiting to be asked for help. They were more than happy to lend a hand where they could, so I could add writing-a-book to the list of things I was juggling on a daily basis.
This made me wonder about how many other single parents felt like I did, like they’re a burden when they ask for help. I can honestly say that winning the competition has changed something fundamental for me as a single parent. I’ve realised that sometimes I can’t do everything by myself and it really is okay to ask for help when I need it. Whether that’s from family or friends or from organisations out there like Gingerbread. It’s okay to achieve things as a single parent with the help of others – it doesn’t make it any less of an achievement and I’m definitely prouder of having written a book with the help I asked for, than having possibly failed trying to do so alone.
My debut novel publishes this week and although (as with many writers) I’m my own biggest critic, I’m also very proud of the fact that I did it. It took hard work and lots of help, and there were tears of sadness and happiness along the way. But when my son Archie held a finished copy in his hands and asked if he could take it to school to show his teachers and classmates, I knew it had all been worth it, because he was proud of me too.
Jemma’s debut novel, The Truth About My Mother, is published on February 20th, and is available to pre-order on amazon now.