Article by Ann Bennett
Until a few days ago I had no idea what the phrases ‘side-gig’ and ‘side-hustle’ meant, but I realise I’ve been doing just that for several years now. I can proudly count myself, a fifty-seven year old solicitor and mother of three twenty-something sons, a member of the gig-economy – normally thought the exclusive province of millennials.
It started out as a hobby that I dabbled in whenever I had a spare moment, but has grown into something I take quite seriously as an additional income stream to build for the future.
I’ve loved telling stores since childhood and used to produce my own little illustrated books about witches. At school, English was my favourite subject, but being practically minded, chose to study law at university. This usefully combined my love of language with something that could provide me with a means of making a living – and it still does!
Finding time to write
I worked in city law firms and in legal aid practices in my twenties, as well as taking a year out to travel in India and South East Asia. I kept a travel journal, and wrote a few short stories back then. In fact I’ve always written in some shape or form. It was not until my first son was born in 1992 that I began to write in earnest. I wrote whenever he took his daytime nap and in those precious moments took a correspondence course with the London School of Journalism. Two more babies followed, so it became more difficult to find time to write, but when my youngest son began nursery school I managed to juggle an hour here and there, producing two full time novels (neither of which have seen the light of day).
I went back to work full time when all three boys were at school, this time for central government. For a few years I focused exclusively on my career and all spare time was spent caring for the family. But the time came when I managed to slot in a bit of writing each evening, and at weekends when my husband took the boys to watch Chelsea play.
Winning an award
I wrote another full-length novel, but it wasn’t until I decided to incorporate some family research into a book that I achieved publication. My father had served in the Malaya campaign and been a prisoner of war on the Thai-Burma railway. He died when I was seven, and I’d always wanted to find out about his experiences. In 2010 I discovered his ‘Liberation Questionnaire’ in the National Archives. This contained his account of his experience as a prisoner of war. I decided to take those events as the basis of a story about a fictitious soldier, told in parallel with that of his daughter who travels to Thailand to find out what happened to him during the war. I called it ‘Bamboo Heart’. It was published in 2013 by Monsoon Books, an independent publisher based in Singapore and in the UK. I followed it up with Bamboo Island and Bamboo Road, both about the war in South East Asia. Bamboo Heart won the Asian Books Blog Award for fiction in 2015 and was shortlisted for the Singapore Book Awards. All three became Amazon bestsellers for their category.
As well as a publishing advance, I began to receive royalties for my books, an added bonus to something that had started out as a hobby. I’ve just completed another book for Monsoon, Burma Star. I’ve also embarked into the world of self-publishing with The Foundling’s Daughter again inspired by family history, about mysterious events in an orphanage in the 1930s, partly set in British India. I have writing friends who make serious incomes from self-publishing who are guiding me through the labyrinthine world of marketing. I’m hoping to build my author platform so that when the time comes for me to quit the day job and able to focus more time and energy on my writing career, I’ll have an established profile.
The Foundling’s Daughter by Ann Bennett is out now. Available from Amazon.