Marrakech provided the backdrop for a new novel by Lancashire teaching assistant Rachel Evans.
But her journey to publication all started with her grandmother’s life story.
Rachel Evans, whose pen name is Rachel Clare, has just had her first novel published and it was dedicated to her late grandmother Sylvia.
By day, Rachel works as a teaching assistant at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, but school holidays, evenings and weekends see her turn author.
Her new novel 'Roses of Marrakech' also drew much inspiration from a holiday in Morocco, as she explains: “I wanted to write a novel about my grandmother’s sisters and about her family, but I also wanted part of it in the present. A few years ago I went to Morocco on holiday. It was just so different and vibrant. Then I went to Lavenham (Suffolk) later in the year. I had an idea of a story and put the two together.”
Her success is all the more remarkable because Rachel has cerebral palsy and in pursuing her dream to be an author, has been determined not to be held back by her difficulties.
Since the publication she has become a blogger for charity Scope, writing about the special perseverance needed to achieve her dream.
Rachel credits taking a Postgraduate Diploma in Newspaper Journalism with teaching her skills of conciseness, and pays particular tribute to her tutor.
She studied at UCLan in 2003 with the aid of a bursary awarded by Lancashire Post owners Johnston Press. Rachel, 44, said: “My love of writing began in primary school. I enjoyed escaping to different worlds of my own creation and I found that my stories were always printed in the school magazine.
“I continued to scribble ideas in notebooks for many years but it was only when I did my Diploma in Newspaper Journalism, under the tutelage of Mike Nally that I learned to hone my skills and write economically.”
“I did my diploma but unfortunately I’ve got cerebral palsy and I can’t drive and I couldn’t do shorthand so it limited my job opportunities. So I thought, ‘Well, I’ll start writing my own book’.”
She continued: “In December 2014, coming runner-up in a Sunday Express story competition on the Christmas Truce gave me the confidence to write my first novel. It really showed me I was a good writer. I had to knuckle down and work at it.”
The £7.99 novel is now on sale in Waterstones in Lancaster and Blackpool and online.
Roses of Marrakech tells the story of 36-year-old teacher Ivy Fielding, who suffers from a lack of self esteem due to a facial birthmark. Her great-aunt Rose has died, leaving a substantial bequest. While reading Rose’s diary, Ivy discovers tragedies in her family’s past which inspire her to fulfil a childhood dream. She jets off to Marrakech for the summer holidays. The book is set against the backdrop of wartime Suffolk and the present day spice-scented souks of Morocco where Ivy follows a life-changing trail of discovery.
Rachel said: “Seeing my novel on sale in Waterstones and receiving such positive feedback from people really has made all my hard work worthwhile. It is a long-held dream which has finally come true.”
Rachel’s determination had previously seen her gain her BA in English and French at Liverpool Hope University in 1993-6,and an MA degree in French at Lancaster University in 1996-7.
In 1998 she took a University Certificate in Counselling Skills at UCLan and then worked for the Revenue and Customs service in Preston. It was here her writing talent was again spotted on a training course and she felt encouraged to embark on the post graduate newspaper journalism diploma.
Once her book was completed Rachel began the search for a publisher, contacting several. She said: “I subscribe to a writing magazine and I was reading it when I just saw The Book Guild. I thought I would send off the first three chapters – they offered me a publishing deal.”
“The story in my novel is basically fictional. The only part that is based on facts is that when my main character, Ivy, finds her late great-aunt Rose’s diary where she talks about her sisters, Eleanor and Violet Endicott contracting and dying from TB when they were just young women. That is based on the true stories my grandma, Sylvia Wynne, told me about her elder sisters, Gladys and Ivy Dook.
“Her sisters’ wasted, curtailed lives always struck a chord with me so they were a natural starting point.”
The sisters died in 1927 and 1929 from TB and Rachel said: “I dedicated my novel to my grandma – an incredibly positive person who lived each day of her life to the fullest despite the tragedies which had befallen her sisters when she herself was just a teenager. She encouraged me to live the best life I could, telling me stories of her sisters’ zest for life and the all-night dances they attended in the roaring 20s.”
Rachel attended Scotforth Primary and Ripley St Thomas schools and lives in Lancaster.
At St Mary’s school she teaches French to Key Stage 2 children and has also set up a school newspaper. She said: “The newspaper has become very popular and the children enjoy selling it in school and in the parish.
“Writing can be a lonely and frustrating job so my day job keeps me grounded.
“The children in my class have been so excited about the publication of my novel, with some saying they want to be writers too when they grow up.I want to inspire others now I’ve achieved my dreams of becoming a writer.“