Single mother-of-five Julie Noble has moved closer to achieving her lifelong literary dream after being selected for a new anthology celebrating working-class writers. Chris Burn reports.
Juggling the responsibilities of being a lone parent to five children, running a household, working and paying the bills would leave most people with little time or inclination for writing in their limited amount of spare time, but for author Julie Noble her creative passion is something that can’t be ignored.
“I met somebody recently who said they could only write when they don’t have anything else to do,” she says. “But I feel like I can’t not write.
“In the evening when most people are chilling out, I do my writing then. Usually paying the bills and running the house is first and writing takes place in the gaps, the times when the kids have gone to bed and when it is nice and peaceful.”
When inspiration strikes, Noble says she has even been known to shut herself in the bathroom and start scribbling in her notebook.
Noble, who lives in Fylingthorpe near Whitby but grew up in Leeds, has done everything from childminding, working for a bank, bookkeeping, running children’s activity clubs and even appearing as an extra on shows like Emmerdale and Heartbeat in her professional life but has now moved a major step closer to her lifelong dream of becoming a full-time writer after having her work chosen for a prestigious new anthology celebrating working-class writers.
She is among three writers put forward by the New Writing North organisation to have been selected to have their work published in the Common People collection, which will also feature contributions from well-known authors like Malorie Blackman, Damian Barr and Stuart Maconie when it is published in May next year.
Noble, whose children are now aged between 10 and 28 with the youngest two still at home, is among 17 emerging writers from the UK whose work has been selected for Common People from hundreds of entries. “It was incredibly hard to carve out any time for writing as there was so much to do at home,” she says. “This new opportunity is giving me more of a chance to focus on my work.”
Noble’s lifelong love of literature began when she was a child growing up in the Leeds suburb of Chapel Allerton close to its border with Chapeltown. Her father’s family was originally from the Fylingdales area but he moved to Leeds for work, getting a job on buses while her mother worked in pharmacies.
She says her passion for both reading and writing started at an early age, writing her first story about a lion called Chanto at the age of eight.
“If I hadn’t had books, I don’t know where I would be,” she says. “It was an escape from everything, I might never see something but I could read about it. I went to the library most days after school and I used to read everything, history books, adventure books, The Famous Five.
“If it hadn’t been for Chapel Allerton library, I wouldn’t have had hardly anything. It is still there and my mum still goes.”
She says it was not until she got to A-Levels that she was encouraged to apply for university and she ended up getting offered a place to study Psychology and Literature at Lancaster University. Noble says she found the former subject fascinating, particularly in relation to the way people’s choices are influenced by the society they grow up in and the people around them.
But in her final year of study at the age of 20, Noble became pregnant and gave birth to her first child a fortnight before her final exams. Despite the new arrival, she graduated with honours but says her life went off in a different direction to many of her peers from university.
“You are instantly cut off from all the people who are planning careers and future study and where they are going to live afterwards. At that time, there weren’t so many options for childcare.”
She ended up living in Castleford with her then-partner and after moving to Ossett two-and-a-half years later, got a job working for First Direct bank in Leeds.
While life has not always been simple after four more children and going through divorce twice, Noble never lost her passion for writing and her own experiences have acted as an inspiration for her work.
In 2004, she published her first novel Talli’s Secret, a book for older children which tells the story of a girl who survives a car accident that kills her sister and meets the ghost of Charlotte Brontë while visiting Brontë Parsonage. The main character in the book, Cassie, has dyspraxia - a condition which affects physical coordination and in real life also affected Maria Brontë, the eldest sister of Brontë family who died at 11, and Jonathon, Noble’s eldest son.
Noble says one of her main motivations in writing the story was to raise awareness about what her son, who also has dyslexia, was going through after he struggled to get understanding at school.
“My son was having terrible difficulties. I wanted to raise awareness and get people talking about it,” she says.
“It made it better for him at school. Sometimes teachers would think he was just messing about.”
She says one of the most moving things to come out of writing the book, which a finalist in the first Brit Writers Awards and won the David St John Thomas Self-Publishing Marketing Award in 2005, was the letters and emails she received from children in a similar position to her son. “I had a lot of children getting in touch saying this is exactly what it is like and thank you. It was so sweet.”
Noble had further success in 2010 when her story Sands in Time won the She Magazine Short Story Competition. Her main source of work currently is bookkeeping for businesses in the Whitby area and Julie says despite her successes, she is all too aware of how hard it is to make a living from writing if you do not come from a privileged background.
“It is hard to support a family by writing and you have to do other things to make ends meet,” she says. “It is not a career you can go into with confidence.”
She says she hopes the exposure that will come out of being included in the anthology will give her further opportunities to pursue her many ideas, which include three novels, dozens of short stories and a concept for a television show.
“There is lots of work I haven’t had the opportunity to put out,” she says.
“Even though there are times I think I might just give up on the dream then something happens like I win a writing competition.”
Noble says her writing style combines social realism with what she thinks is most important - a gripping plot. Now aged 48, she hopes the new opportunity provided by Common People will help provide her own happy ending by allowing her to become a writer on a full-time basis.
“That is my complete dream,” she says.
Fellow northern writers to be celebrated
Two other writers put forward by New Writing North will have their work featured in Common People.
Louise Powell, a final year PhD researcher in English at Sheffield Hallam University, grew up in receipt of free school meals before winning a sixth form academic scholarship to Teesside High School.
Former musician SM Wilson, from Cumbria, is currently working as a postman while he studies creative writing at Northumbria University.
Kit de Waal, who is editing the Common People collection, says of the 17 selected works: “All life is there, all of them laced through with a determination to see the funny side, to do more than survive, to celebrate. I’m absolutely delighted to welcome all these new writers and can’t wait to see them all in print.”