Dr Maggie Weir-Wilson
My latest book
I would currently describe myself as a writer of local history who dabbles in poetry and creative fiction. I am not one of those writers who have always written, although I have always been a keen reader. I also paint a bit, watercolour and usually botanical, and I have an allotment which I share with a friend.
Based in southern England, I have moved from Middlesex to London, to Wiltshire, to Kent and finally to Horsham in Sussex. I have worked full-time as a clerk and a secretary, then after taking an OU degree and MA at Kent University, as a Probation Officer. In that role I taught and assessed trainee Probation Officers, and of course over my 25-year career wrote loads of Court reports. It was only after I retired that I started to think about writing books.
I think anyone who has worked all their life gets a bit twitchy with the thought of retirement and I certainly did. So, I prepared well in advance by enrolling on a BA Landscape Studies evening course at the University of Sussex. I wanted to do something very different to my work, and I loved the Sussex landscape and history, so this course met my interests. I enjoyed it so much that I followed it up by a DPhil with my thesis being based on the landscape history of St Leonard’s Forest on the edge of Horsham, West Sussex. I was 65 by the time I got my doctorate which is faintly ridiculous but I was hugely pleased.
I felt that the research and work that I had done on the Forest should be more widely known locally, and so the thoughts of turning it into a book surfaced. Not surprisingly perhaps, publishers were not so keen. They said it was uncommercial and niche, quite right, but that did not deter me. Self-publishing would be the answer, and I could add my paintings as chapter headings and pop in a poem. However, in the meantime Amberley Publishing suggested I produce a book in their series of secret towns. I was happy to do this even if it did mean more research and producing 100 photos and illustrations. ‘Secret Horsham’ was published by them in autumn 2019.
I was, of course, still keen to produce my Forest book so picked it up again and continued to write and amend. Now, with the help of local publishing company Author’s Pen, my book entitled ‘St Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex: A Landscape History’ will be in the shops just after Christmas 2020.
I don’t do much painting but really enjoy it when I give time to a lesson or workshop with Leigh Ann Gale, a wonderful botanic illustrator and teacher from nearby Mannings Heath. I am thinking of doing a small book of about Horsham allotments, illustrated with my botanic paintings and poetry, which will be a lovely project to do.
I have also been slowly working on creative fiction. I’m not sure that this is really my thing but I have taken creative writing classes at Collyer’s College, Horsham, with Lesley Hart. I’ve also taken a six-week online course with Curtis Brown Creative which was excellent. Feedback from these classes, as well as from Horsham Writers Circle, has been invaluable. So, at the moment I am working on a story about a group of older friends travelling in Southern India. Current working title is Our Indian Summer so watch this space for progress.