I was fourteen when my life took an unexpected twist, and I became a fully-fledged member of DADS. I had been coerced by my mother to audition for the part of Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz. My mother had bagged the role of Glenda, the part Edna Fowler had coveted, but managed to contain her disappointment after being cast as the Wicked Witch of the West.
The director of the DADS production of the Wizard of Oz was its founder, Jocelyn Robertshaw. I hadn’t seen much of Jocelyn since the day she caught us by the trout lake. Apart from waving at her from a distance when Daniel and I went swimming at the Manor. I was on stage at the Strand Theatre, having finished my audition. I had just exchanged a few lines with Mrs Hargreaves who was playing the part of Aunt Em, having sung Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I was squinting into the spotlight, as I couldn’t work out who was sitting with my mother in the stalls. A woman stood up, clapping enthusiastically, and I recognised the outline of her jodhpurs.
‘Bravo, young lady! Joan Fothergill! You didn’t tell me your daughter sings like a nightingale and can act the socks off the entire DADS membership. Goodness, how time flies, young lady, the last time I talked to you was by the trout lake, and you were wearing a pair of pink knickers.’ My cheeks turned crimson, and I heard my mother mumble the words, lake, knickers?
‘Lucy, dear, welcome to the fold, welcome to DADS! The part of Dorothy is indisputably yours!’
‘She’s a good writer too, Joc, she’s won some very prestigious competitions,’ my mother chirped. That was my first experience of teenage mortification. How could my mother tell a multi-published author I’d won a few school writing competitions and make it sound like I’d won the Booker Prize?
‘If she writes as well as she acts and sings, Lucy will be a member of DAWG before she can say, Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. Thank you, Lucy. We’ll see you at rehearsals on Monday eve. Right! Time to crack on. Who’s up for the part of the cowardly lion? Arthur, darling, where are you? You’re giving it a go, aren’t you?’
It was at that moment Jocelyn Robertshaw became one of my teenage idols, along with One Direction and the Jonas Brothers. I was in awe of this larger than life local celebrity, who not only founded DADS but DAWG as well. The revered body of local writing talent and becoming a member of the celebrated Didsbrook Authors and Writers Group became one of my fourteen-year-old self’s lifetime writing goals.
After the DADS production of The Wizard of Oz was over, I featured in one more production, as Kathy Bostock, in Whistle Down the Wind, before knuckling down and focusing on schoolwork. I didn’t see Jocelyn again until I was in the Sixth Form when she came to my school to give a talk about the pitfalls of making a career as a writer. By that time, I was the editor of the school magazine, and my life goals had blurred a little as I centred all my efforts into getting good exam grades and going to university, but it didn’t stop me from sticking up my hand up and saying,
‘I really want to be a writer, Mrs Robertshaw.’
‘I know you do, Lucy, dear. I’ve read some of your work in the school magazine. Your headmaster sends me copies every month, you know, and I have been most impressed, as well as being very touched to see you’ve reviewed all my books!’
‘Oh, yes, I have. I love your voice and your attention to detail. Your writing is so descriptive, and it creates maximum impact, and, oh, I love all your red herrings.’ I was gabbling, a combination of awe and excitement. The effect Jocelyn had on most people. After her talk, Jocelyn made a point of coming to see me and told me she would be happy to help me pursue a writing career in any way she could.
‘Perhaps I could mentor you, Lucy, if you’ll have me?’ I was at a loss for words, for once. My most favourite author had offered to become my mentor. I was so overwhelmed; I hugged her again. I saw her at least once a week before going to university. She was a breath of fresh air because she was always so positive and upbeat about everything.
‘It’s a tricky decision for you, Lucy, dear, having been bitten by both the acting and the writing bugs, but you can do both, you know. I did. I was an actress before I met my husband. I never wrote a jot until after I’d had both my children.’
Deliberating whether to plump for writing or acting career, made choosing a degree course a challenge until a course at Roehampton jumped out at me. Creative Writing and Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies and, much to my delight, I got on the course. Jocelyn wrote to me regularly at university, and receiving her letters was a highlight. My parents were lousy letter writers, so I looked forward to receiving Jocelyn’s inspirational and motivational epistles, spurring me on. During one weekend at home, I told my mother I was going to see Jocelyn.
‘Best not, Lucy, love. I don’t think that would be a good idea right now. Poor Jocelyn has just had some devastating news; poor Peter has been diagnosed with stage four cancer.’