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Bestselling author Mandy Robotham on making the switch from midwifery to writing

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Author: Thomas Hadfield, Posted: Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 09:00

Mandy Robotham Mandy Robotham

When it comes to book writing, it would be fair to say Mandy Robotham has taken the road less travelled.

Originally from Tottenham in North London, Mandy trained as a journalist, working as a reporter at local newspapers and the Evening Standard, before becoming a freelancer.

“I’d wanted to be a writer from a very young age,” she explained.

“Being an avid young reader, I carried a notebook around with me at school, pretending to be a writer. As a teenager, I wrote various ‘books’, but they always seemed to be the same plot as the one I’d just read!”

Mandy and her partner Simon moved to Painswick in 1992, before later moving to Stroud, where she continued to work as a magazine journalist.

But when she gave birth to their eldest child Harry in 1994, a surprise career change was in the offing.

“I was enticed by the process of pregnancy and birth,” she continued, “I decided there and then to become a midwife.

“I carried on writing for nursing and midwifery magazines during my three-year training, but it tailed off as family life became busier and I became a community midwife at Stroud Maternity, which involved being on-call a lot of the time.”

Writing still remained an interest and a passion to Mandy, but when her second son Finn was born, finding the time to sit down and write a book became understandably difficult.

A few years on, and with her sons all grown up, Mandy got back into writing through a course at Prema Arts Centre in Uley.

“It was a small, friendly, group and there was no pressure,” she said, “but it did provide the motivation to write something each week.

“The group made me realise I needed writers around me to gain confidence and push on with words, so I began a two-year part-time Masters in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes University.”

Juggling her full-time job as a midwife and the master’s degree was no mean feat, but Mandy insists it was worth it – “I’d recommend a similar course for anyone who’s serious about becoming an author,” she added.

After graduating from the course Mandy admits that she had a lot more confidence but still “no idea for that novel”.

And as most new authors find, inspiration came from everyday life.

“Write what you know’ is common advice for new writers, and so it seemed sensible to begin with a book about a midwife,” she said.

“I was helped by local writer Katie Fforde, who told me in no uncertain terms that the idea wasn’t the short story I originally thought, but my first novel.”

That novel was called ‘A Woman of War’, which tells the story of a woman taken from Nazi concentration camps and assigned to be a midwife for one of Hitler’s inner circle.

Mandy continued: “Each birth in the book is based on a real scenario transported back to wartime.

“I needed to do plenty of research in relating how German midwives worked, the equipment they had access to, and birth in some of the concentration camps. I’ve always been a history buff and I’m fascinated by the wartime period, so it was a joy to combine the two.”

The book took Mandy around a year to write before being published in 2018 by Avon Books, a division of HarperCollins.

It has received near-unanimous praise from readers, and Mandy describes the moment she received the first copy as “magical”.

“I’ll admit to actually smelling the pages!” she laughed.

“The idea that people might want to read a story to come out of my head still astounds me. It’s meant I have more respect for writers than ever. It’s not easy – there really is blood, sweat and tears in every book.

“I’ve been amazed at the reception to ‘A Woman of War’, locally and nationwide, as well in Canada and the US. The book has also been translated into eight different languages, and although I’ll never be able to read the Italian or Lithuanian versions, it does give me a buzz to see it in print.”

Appearances at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and Stroud Book Festival soon followed, and so did her second novel, ‘The Secret Messenger’.

Mandy is currently working on book three – she is contracted to write a total of four for Avon – but with a couple of other side projects on the go, Mandy has decided to throw herself into writing full-time.

She added: “Book three is so far untitled but will focus on the year leading up to World War Two, after which I’m going to give wartime a break.

“I’ve been putting energies into other genres – a contemporary family drama and a dystopian novel – all of which takes up a lot of time around work as a midwife, so I will soon be making my second career change and giving up midwifery for full-time writing.

“After more than twenty years as a midwife, I’ll miss the people and the births, but it’s never too late for a new chapter!”

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