How I Changed From Commissioning TV to Writing Books by Helen Warner
When I was 17, I asked my mum, with no hint of irony, whether she thought I should use my real name for the books I was going to write or whether I should come up with a pen-name.My mum, who is nothing if not forthright, looked at me askance and said in her strong Northern Irish accent “I don’t think it’ll ever be an issue so I wouldn’t waste time worrying about it!”But fast-forward 25 years and I DID finally achieve my ambition to become an author, when my first novel, RSVP, was published.
So what took me so long? Well, I suppose what got in the way was the other ambition I had nursed since I was very young, to work in TV. From the age of about 7, I would send off endless letters to the BBC, suggesting ideas for programmes that invariably involved me presenting them. This was despite being rather chubby, with short, greasy hair and thick glasses. At such a tender age, I hadn’t yet realised how lookist TV is.
At university, I got a less than impressive degree, thanks to my devotion to Richard & Judy on This Morning. Mornings that should have been spent at lectures were spent much more pleasurably, lolling on my bed learning the vitally important life skills of using hair conditioner when shaving my legs and how to apply fake tan without staining my palms.
I had no idea at the time but all of this was to come in very handy when a few years later, I landed my dream job as a day producer on… This Morning! It was stressful, terrifying and utterly, utterly brilliant.
From there, I gradually climbed the greasy TV pole until I found myself in one of the best jobs in the world, as Head of Daytime for Channel 4. I was actually PAID to be in charge of shows like Come Dine With Me, Deal or No Deal and Coach Trip! I’d have done it for free but luckily Channel 4 didn’t know that…
But as with everything, there was a price to pay for such a fantastic job. Every day, I had to travel for 5 hours to get to and from work. In order to cope with the commute, I started to write and that is how I came to write RSVP and IOU. Every day, I would get on the train, open my laptop and start to write. When I arrived at Liverpool Street, I would close the laptop, go to work and repeat the whole exercise again in the evening. It was great but it was exhausting.
So when, in October 2011, I got a call to say that I had been offered a new 3 book deal, it was as if all the pieces suddenly slotted into place and I decided to leave Channel 4 to write full-time.
At the beginning of 2012, I found myself sitting at my desk at home, overlooking the beautiful, wild sea and wondering why I didn’t do this years ago.
But the truth is, I couldn’t have done it years ago because it wasn’t the right time. Now is the right time and I feel blessed.
p.s. I did use my real name – and my mum couldn’t be prouder.