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NEWS > Alumnae Profiles > Writing is the Thing That Grounds Me

Writing is the Thing That Grounds Me

Debut author Aisling Fowler, Class of 2004, is excited that Fireborn, her new fantasy fiction for middlle graders, is published by HarperCollins this autumn.

Books almost scuppered my education at LEH before it had even begun. Not wanting to frighten their book-obsessed daughter, my parents decided not to tell me that the entrance exam into the junior school was a) quite important or b) an exam at all.

What I thought was going on I have no idea, but what I remember very clearly is that the girl beside me finished her paper with time to spare and was told she could read in the book corner until everyone else had finished. You can probably guess what happened next . . . My poor mum: when I cheerfully told her I’d handed in my paper unfinished, she was horrified. Luckily, that particular story had a happy ending. 

You might assume that English was a favourite subject in school but it actually wasn’t. I loved books more than ever and spent a lot of time trying to read my way through the entire library. At home, I even wrote what would probably now be called fan-fiction. Fundamentally, I wanted books to remain a pleasure rather than work though. As a result, I dropped English after GCSEs with a sigh of relief and continued solely with sciences. 

Post-LEH, I took the career equivalent of the scenic route, studying biology, then working as a support worker before training as a nurse and moving into ITU. I would probably still be there now if not for two important things.

Firstly, on my nursing course, I met a brilliant girl who was writing a book in her spare time. It was an epiphany for me: someone doing exactly the same thing as me, but simultaneously managing something I’d quietly wanted to do for years. Inspired, I began to write regularly on my days off.

The second piece of the puzzle came a couple of years later when my husband’s job unexpectedly took us to the US. I took a sabbatical from ITU and told myself that if I couldn’t write a book with seven whole months off, then I should give up on the idea altogether. 

I saw Fireborn – my middle grade fantasy, coming out in October – purely as a learning exercise and had no expectation of being published. There was a lot to get to grips with: finishing a first draft, editing it, asking friends to read it (the terror!), then rewriting and editing again. I discovered sending submissions to agents is a whole artform in itself but once I’d done that, I started to plan my ‘real’ book, the one I hoped would one day be published.

Then something incredible happened: I somehow hooked the most magnificent agent. She raised enough interest in Fireborn that it ended up in a multi-publisher auction. On one particularly wild day I had five meetings around London – an absolute whirlwind of rooms dressed as scenes from my story, editors who seemed to think I was a proper writer, gifts (!!) and me just saying ‘thank you’ over and over. Two days later, I had a three-book deal with HarperCollins. 

That was 18 months ago and my writing routines have remained relatively unchanged. As strange as it sounds, Covid hasn’t drastically altered my days as I was already mainly operating from home. My first forays into writing full-time were in an unfamiliar city where I knew no-one, and I can’t help but wonder if that helped to prepare me for working through a pandemic. I’m very lucky that I haven’t found it difficult to concentrate or stay motivated; writing is the thing that grounds me. 

For anyone reading this who has that voice in the back of their head urging them to write: do it! I hope if you take anything from this, it’s that the only qualification you need to write stories is to read them and love them. My advice would be not to wait for the Muse to strike but to sit down when you have time and not let yourself get up again until you’ve written something.

For me a target word count helps, but this is not for everyone. Read everything you write with a combination of great suspicion and curiosity. What is working? What is not? How can it be better? Do this regularly. Ideas will come. You will improve. You will be a writer.  

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