The WI has been part of my life since I was eight. We moved to a little village in Buckinghamshire and Mum joined the local group making many friends. Two of them, Bett and Dot, became my friends too. It might seem odd for a girl to have friends that are sixty years older than her but I liked them and that was that. After school I’d bomb to Bett’s flat, or Dot’s cottage, play cards or make a noise on Dot’s electric organ – I eventually learnt to play ‘Home on the Range’. I went to every WI fair, carol concert, sale, and plenty of committee meetings – because Mum became President and they were held in our house. Fast forward and my sister and I were in the audience when Mum performed in a dance spectacle with other WIers at the Albert Hall, and my wedding dress featured in a WI show of dresses through the ages – mine was the 90s. She’s been to Denman College more times than I can count, most recently to do Flamenco – not bad at 88! She’s currently Group Convenor, and many of the original friends aren’t here anymore but there’s a slew of new ones. When news got to me that there was a Westbury Park WI in the planning I was ready with my cheque book. So it was even more of a delight yesterday to be the February speaker, with my talk titled ‘From nought to published in 10 things’.
When I run children’s workshops I take a dustbin full of whatever takes my fancy and the audience choose which items to include in our story. I wasn’t sure the WI would be up for that but I can’t perform without my bin, apart from anything else I sit on it. So I found some items that could, at a stretch, mark ten steps on the journey from not-a-writer to my-name-on-the-spine and bunged them in. They were: a toy safe (I used to work in a bank), a Waitrose bag (I was carrying shopping when I first saw an ad for a writing group), a green pepper (my teacher was Louise Green!), tennis balls in a cannister (I heard the news that I’d won a short story competition on court), hand weights (my first novel was inspired by Hercules), a stethoscope (Lynda Rooke from Casualty performed one of my monologues), an ice pack (the cold-hearted agent that first rejected me), a white charger (as in horse, not iSomething – ridden by the agent that didn’t reject me), my Ilizarov frame (that I was wearing post-op when I heard from BBC Radio 4) and finally, my first book. I was a bit nervous but the smiley faces were encouraging so off we went, and an hour later we were spent. There was a lot of laughter and I had a red face so that’s a success according to my rather basic criteria.
Thank you, Joint Presidents and trustee sidekicks, for starting it all up. I hope to enjoy the WI for as long as my mum has.
Here she is.