This blog post about Inspiring Local Women is one that I’ve been working on for some time. It started out way back at the beginning of 2018. I wanted to celebrate real women who we can identify with and truly admire. Not based on how many Instagram followers or Facebook likes that they have. Not because of who they know or hang out with. Just like me & you, going about the daily grind without an army of hired help. All this and still managing to accomplish greatness. Now that’s what inspirational really means to me.
It’s taken a while to finally pull together as most of these ladies are busy little bees. So it’s with the greatest of pleasure that I can share with you my Inspiring Local Women – ladies who have overcome adversity, faced knock backs, suffered personal traumas and still come out fighting. These are real heroes that I would love the younger generation of girls to look up to and aspire to follow their path.
First up is Author, Emma Heatherington. I’ve know Emma since childhood. We used to go to the same Irish dancing school and also had such a hoot starring in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ together in our teens. Totally rocked it in our angel costumes swooning over the stars in the show. It’s been amazing to watch Emma excel over the years and achieve her phenomenal success.
Tell me a little about yourself Emma …
I’m 42, a mum of five (two girls and three boys aged between 22 and 3!) and I come from Donaghmore in County Tyrone. I live with my partner, Jim McKee who is a professional artist and singer/songwriter, a whippet called Seamus and I write novels from my living room sofa as it’s the only place I can find a space. We’re a bit squashed to say the least but we manage!
I’m currently working on a novel called A Miracle on Hope Street which is a heart-warming Christmas themed story about a young agony aunt called Ruth Ryan who decides to host a Christmas dinner at her own home in a bid to combat loneliness and to show that action speaks louder than words when it comes to helping others. I’m also going through the copy edits (the very, very last stage) of the Nathan Carter autobiography ‘Born For the Road’ which will be out late September. In fact, there’s a chance both books will be out around the same time which should be great fun!
So how how did you get started?
My first attempt at putting pen to paper was writing dodgy pop songs when I was about twelve years old. I later did GCSE music which allowed me to explore this a bit more but I never learned how to play an instrument which is one of my biggest regrets. Fast forward a lot of years after going to uni and working in PR and Event Management, my aunt Kathleen showed me a short story competition in a magazine which I entered and won and helped me get my first publishing deal.
I still enjoy writing song lyrics and have written three musicals for the stage as well as co-writing a song called ‘Break Your Heart’ with country singer Derek Ryan, so maybe those early attempts weren’t as dodgy as I remember them to be!
I’m thrilled to by now have worked with so many different publishers for my books including Irish based Poolbeg, Dodder Books, The O’Brien Press and now Penguin Ireland for Nathan’s book and HarperImpulse (HarperCollins) for my own novels. A Miracle on Hope Street will be novel number 10 and my two most recent novels, The Legacy of Lucy Harte and A Part of Me and You have been translated into German and Dutch which was a big dream come true, and each of them will also soon be available as audio books. It really blows my mind when I see reviews in different languages or even from different English speaking countries and I’ve had some fantastic messages from readers in American and even as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
Who is your favourite author?
My favourite author without a doubt as a child was Roald Dahl. In fact, I think I’d say he is still my favourite. I could still easily curl up and read ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ or ‘Matilda’ at any time of day or night if I had the time and can’t wait to introduce my youngest child Sonny to his work when he is old enough. Apart from Roald Dahl, I love stories that leave you thinking after you finish the last page so for that reason I adored ‘Me Before You’ by JoJo Moyes, My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, ‘Me, You and Other People’ by Fionnuala Kearney and Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins really had me gripped. I can’t wait for the new Claire Allan book ‘Her Name Was Rose’ which is out very soon.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Everyone I meet inspires me, so beware, you could end up in my novel! I love putting characters in conflicting scenarios then having their paths cross and see what happens. In A Part of Me and You, Juliette is dying to live while Shelley, who she meets in a seaside town in County Galway, is living to die. Both women have so much to learn from each other and when they do, magic happens.
In The Legacy of Lucy Harte, Maggie’s life changes when she meets the family of the little girl who saved her life and gets her own unique way to say thank you by carrying out young Lucy’s bucket list, and in A Miracle on Hope Street, Ruth is busy helping everyone not realising that she really needs to stop and help herself. I love to write life affirming stories and just like the books I like to read, I hope to leave readers something to think about when they turn the last page.
Have you any tips for aspiring writers?
- Don’t stare at the blank page – just get something down! Chances are it won’t be your best effort first go but good writing is ‘re-writing’ so make a start and then tweak it until it’s as you would like it to be. Practice makes perfect just like with any other craft
- Try and pack your sentences with emotion – be it laughter, anger, sadness, excitement, trepidation – really push to make your reader feel something.
- Read lots and lots, go easy on yourself for your first few attempts and most of all enjoy it! It’s the most wonderful escapism and so much fun to create your own characters and stories. Be proud of yourself when you type The End. That’s a huge achievement, even if you’re only writing for yourself.
What do you like to do to relax?
I love good food and good wine, preferably at the same time! I’ve done the odd travel review for a Sunday newspaper and I adore trying out new places to visit. There’s nothing like a day trip or a weekend away to clear the head and leave you reinvigorated to get stuck back in to writing, plus travelling and doing new things feed the soul and make for lots of new ideas.
Who inspires you?
Reese Witherspoon without a doubt! As well as being a great actress, I really look up to her as a person for all that she stands for and for all that she has done for women in the creative industries. She has now her own production company, Hello Sunshine, that deliberately creates roles for women in TV, film and other digital media outlets. I think she’s a fantastic role model and a real inspiration.
What motto do you live by?
I have several mottos … I totally believe that life is for living, that we should always try and see the goodness in others, try not to let hard times harden your heart – and no matter how many times we get knocked down, always do your best to get back up again and give life your best shot!
Appreciate the good times always – none of us know what’s around the corner. I try to reflect these mottos in my writing, and I’ve had some beautiful messages from readers who say that after reading the books they look at their own life a little bit differently. For me to hear that is the biggest compliment of all.
Next up is Anna from Blossomingbirds – I love reading Anna’s posts on Instagram about her family and home. Whilst we have only spoken online, you can still feel her positivity and energy from her online presence. She is such a gem. Professional, courteous and helpful to a fault!
Tell me a little about yourself …
I am Anna, mum to Bella (4), Annie (2) and wife to Colin. We have known each other since primary school and started dating when we were still at school. I’m a retail store manager and manage a store with over 150 colleagues. Come evening time, I also blog. It started off as a hobby, blogging about the girls but as they have been getting older and my following has grown, the focus has changed to interiors and fashion/ lifestyle. My degree is in Communications and Public Relations – I’ve used it to secure a graduate position in a retail management programme that has developed into the career I have today. However, I use my blog as my little creative escape!
Who inspired you when you were young?
Any advice for someone starting out as a blogger?
Next up is the lovely Shauna Fay. Originally a Tyrone girl (like myself), Shauna is now a highly esteemed fashion designer located near Newry. I’ve followed her work for some time and it’s a so amazing to see her reaching new heights and continuing to shine. The ultimate creative, Shauna’s work has graced a number of red carpets including the Golden Globes & the IFTA Awards, as well as many local events & weddings. I met up with her recently to find out a little more about the girl behind the gowns …
Tell me a little about Shauna “the person”
I can’t remember ever wanting to be anything other than a fashion designer. Being clothes mad from a very young age, I couldn’t wait to get my own sewing machine. As soon as I got one, that was me started! I got a job at 17 in a company making Irish dancing and bridal wear. After learning a good part of the trade, at 24 I went to Belfast Metropolitan college and studied a HND in fashion management. I started my business 5 years ago and haven’t looked back.
What inspires you when you are designing a new piece / collection?
Honestly it can be anything from seeing some colours together and then that sparks the idea! I can see a new fabric or read something in a magazine. Even when I’m out and about, walking in nature or it can really come from anywhere.
What services do you currently offer?
Our main focus is our ‘Ready to wear’ collection available in store. We then take on a very small amount of bespoke design work which is already fully booked until January 2020.
What is your favourite piece to date & why?
Ah now that’s like picking a favourite child but I do have a soft spot for the dress we created for Rachel who was attending the golden globes.
Image Credit: @Shaunafaydesigner
Who has inspired you in your career and life?
To be honest no one inspires me quite like my mum. She has been through a lot in her life and she has instilled in me a never give up attitude.
What do you do to relax and get the creative juices flowing?
To get the creative juices flowing I mostly get myself out for a walk, put on my favourite music and let my mind go to town with the ideas.
What colour/style do you see being popular in 2019?
Strong vibrant colours clashing in simple shapes
What does the year ahead hold for ‘Shauna Fay Designer’?
I just hope that my brand will continue to grow. My aim is to try & push the boundaries of our current style with more interesting and unique design ideas.
Tell me a little about you & your family …
We’re just an ordinary family. We have 2 little boys – Luke who is 7 and Coen who is 4. Luke is in Primary 3 & Coen is due to start Primary 1 in September. Like most little boys, they are full of devilment but are the life and soul of the house.
Tell me about Luke’s story …
There is a history of Duchenne in my family. I lost my brother to Duchenne when he was just 16 so I knew that there was a possibility that Luke had Duchenne too. I decided not to have him tested until after his first birthday. Luke met all his milestones and I really believed that he was healthy. To be honest, I was afraid to have him tested but we decided to go ahead and get it done.
I took Luke for a blood test on a Wednesday and felt like I quite literally held my breath for the next 2 days. When we met the GP as arranged & I remember everything about that day. I remember getting up and dressing Luke – we were in the middle of a heat wave that week and he was wearing light green summer trousers and a yellow t-shirt when I dropped him off with mum while I went to work. I remember sitting in work doing absolutely nothing but worrying and looking at the clock until it was time to go to the doctors. Holding back tears walking out of the office but I just knew in my heart that I wouldn’t be coming back that day.
I tried not to cry the whole way from Dungannon to Coalisland and then as soon as I walked into the doctors office she just said ‘it’s not good news Claire’ and that was it. I couldn’t hold it in any more. In that instant I not only had my son’s diagnosis but also relived the night Duchenne took my brother from me. I automatically started to grieve for a little boy who was still very much alive and well.
Luke really is a character and full of life. All I kept saying over and over again that weekend was ‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference’. I decided that there was nothing I could do to change the fact that Luke had Duchenne but I could change how I dealt with it. Helping Luke & other boys who have Duchenne would make a difference. Giving Luke the best life ever despite Duchenne was achievable.
The next day we bought a paddling pool and Luke had so much fun. The day after that we went to Newcastle for the day. It just so happened that the day after that, Glenn, who worked for Muscular Dystrophy Campaign at the time, contacted me, completely unaware that Luke had been diagnosed. He asked if I would be interested in taking part in a zip line across the Lagan for the charity… maybe it was just coincidence or maybe it was fate.
Either way, I said yes and got 6 friends and family to do it with me. We broke the news on Facebook with the Just Giving page, which I called Leap for Luke. The support we received from friends, family and our local community really helped me to get through what was the hardest time in my life. I decided that I needed to do more of that to feel like I was changing what having Duchenne would mean for Luke and so, the name of the Just Giving page stuck and Leap for Luke was born.
Tell me a little more about Leap for Luke …
Leap for Luke started in 2012, primarily as a fundraising group raising money for research into Duchenne. It would help everyone with the condition including Luke and my cousin’s little boy, Brian Og, who was born a couple of months later. He was diagnosed with Duchenne in October 2012. Since that time, my knowledge of the condition and the issues around it has grown as well as my confidence.
Leap for Luke evolved from purely a fundraising and awareness group. Under the banner of Leap for Luke, I am a peer support volunteer with Muscular Dystrophy UK providing emotional support and information/ signposting to newly diagnosed families here in Northern Ireland. I campaign for better care for patients with neuro muscular conditions in NI. I also became chair of the Northern Ireland Council of MDUK & campaign for access to medicines across Europe and the US. In 2016, I joined hundreds of other families in Washington to lobby the American drug regulator the FDA to offer accelerated approval to a new drug that would help around 13% of patients with Duchenne. This particular drug wouldn’t help Luke but it’s approval would set a precedent for the approval of drugs for rare conditions like Duchenne.
I have also been selected for a place on the EURORDIS (European Organisation for Rare Diseases) Summer School where I will learn more about the drug development processes in Europe and will be able to advocate more effectively on a European level.
How does Duchenne affect Luke?
Duchenne is a progressive and life limiting muscle wasting condition that affects mostly boys though some girls are affected too. The prognosis is progressive muscle weakness leading to full time wheelchair use before children leave primary school, paralysis by the mid teens and dependent on heart meds and ventilation by mid to late teens. Life expectancy generally is in the early twenties but there are regional variations where NI unfortunately fares worse that other areas of the UK.
By the time they are 5 children with Duchenne will already have lost around a third of their muscles. Right now, Luke struggles to walk distances, he is slow to get up from the floor, he has a strained run and can’t keep up with peers. He is struggling more and more with steps and is beginning to use his special needs buggy more and more often. Luke can’t take part in activities that his peers like such as trampolining, football, martial arts as the risk of injury is too high and a broken bone could mean that Luke will go off his feet earlier. Once those with Duchenne go off their feet, it is harder to maintain upper body muscle and they will begin to lose upper body function too.
Luke takes daily steroids and this had led to stunted growth and his little brother is already taking over him height wise. Luke is starting to notice these things and is asking more questions. The lack of dystrophin in the brain can also lead to behaviour and learning difficulties in Duchenne, though these don’t get worse over time. Luke would be behind some of his peers in literacy and numeracy but he is actually super smart and the vocabulary he uses is way beyond what you would expect for a 7 year old.
The thing with Duchenne is that once muscle is lost it can not be replaced. Even the drugs currently in development for Duchenne are not expected to repair muscles or regain functionality. They stabilise or slow down the progression of the condition so it is important to get the right balance of activity without also contributing to greater muscle wear and tear.
We are delighted that Luke has been accepted onto a clinical trial which is testing a new drug in boys with Duchenne who have a specific mutation. This trial is designed to change Duchenne into a slower progressing form of Muscular Dystrophy which will hopefully keep Luke on his feet for longer. The trial is very invasive and intense. It will have a huge impact on school, work and family life as Luke will have to travel to Newcastle every week for the next 4 years. We are so proud of Luke and how he is taking this on to help not just himself but the 8% of patients with Duchenne who this particular medicine will hopefully also help. The technology that this drug uses also has the potential to treat up to 85% of patients with Duchenne so Luke is playing a little part in history.
Do you have any current fundraising activities planned?
Up until this year Leap for Luke helped raise £100,000 for research into the condition. This year we have decided that our fundraising efforts will focus on helping towards the cost of costly housing adaptations that are required to make our home suitable for Luke’s changing needs. This will also contribute to adaptations costs for my cousin’s little boy as well. After this our fundraising will resume to paying for research. If anyone would like to help, please get in touch.
How can people support you?
Awareness of Duchenne and disability issues is so important for inclusion of children like Luke in our society so I always ask people to tell at least one friend or family member our story. Make them aware that Duchenne can affect anyone. Two thirds of children with Duchenne are born to carrier mothers, most of whom don’t even know they are carriers until their children are diagnosed. One third of boys have Duchenne as a result of a spontaneous mutation. Knowing the signs of this rare condition that many doctors are unfamiliar with might help at least one family get an early diagnosis. Educate your children on disability and promote inclusion as much as possible. I hate to think of Luke being left out or not being able to participate in activities because of things that he has no control over.
Who inspires you?
My main inspirations are my fellow Duchenne mums. Especially my own mum who lost her son and 3 brothers to Duchenne, yet she is a tower of strength every day. I couldn’t do half the things I do if it weren’t for her.
How do you cope on a tough day?
I’m not going to lie, I have lots of tough days. Sometimes it’s not even tough days but lots of tough moments every day. Every single time I see Luke running, it’s obvious he is in the grip of this condition. Every time he loses a skill. We were at a park recently that we visited last year – last year he could climb to the top of the slide this year he couldn’t. Every time I see him jump on the bed I wonder will today be his last time. These little moments remind me of what’s coming.
Then there are the days when the realisation of what lies ahead hit me hard for no particular reason. I just want to lie in bed all day and the thought of going to work for ‘business as usual’ seems to hard. Then I have to tell myself that it’s not about me. If I don’t get up and go to work, how will I do all the things that make Luke’s life so fun? What if I don’t get up and play with him and Coen, how can they make wonderful memories together? If I don’t get up and fight this condition, then it will win and I can’t let that happen.
Last but definitely not least is Sinead Norton. This lady is phenomenal in my book. She works unbelievably hard – at home & work. Sinead also managed to set up & run a highly successful & effective women’s group, Mums At Work, which continues to go from strength to strength.
Mums at Work is a growing and powerful group of women, whose goal is to build friendships and develop their businesses. Focusing on supporting one another, personally and professionally. She now has nearly 11,000 followers on Instagram and has established a VIP Group for members with lots of lovely exclusive benefits. Always smiling, a total professional and someone who can motivate others to greatness.
Tell me a little about yourself Sinead …
I am mum of 7 children and a joint partner in Swift Wedding and Event Services based in Mid Ulster. We supply wedding decor for approx 400 weddings a year. I am a busy person, always on the go and I love to see the transformation of a room to suit the bride’s tastes. I try to work around my children as much as I can and love that I have those choices.
Describe your typical working day?
Typically things kick off around 6.30 when I get up and have a breakfast shake and cup of coffee. I turn my laptop on, read the emails and check my bank. It keeps me focuses and grounded so I write my list of things to get done that day. It consists of home duties, work tasks and things to get completed for myself. Then it’s time for some housework before I get the kids out to school. I get to the office and we pack the vans and prep the stock for the weekend, finishing in time for the school runs. Next up it’s usually homework, dinner and then after school activities. At the weekend we are normally on the road early morning, 6/7am and start delivering to the weddings booked in.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love that I meet new people all the time and I get to be involved with one of the most important days of their lives. Arriving at venues and working alongside their teams, seeing the way they operate and the way they provide a service for their customers. Every venue has different systems and it’s something I really enjoy.
Where did you get the idea behind Mums at Work?
I got the inspiration when I realised I wasn’t alone in the world, running around after children and trying to manage at work. I had a great network of working mums, all with different skills and experiences, so I thought it would be great to widen the circle where we could all share tips and advice.
How do you see Mums at Work developing over the next few years?
What do you do to relax?
My dream weddings are those where the bride knows what she wants. This makes my job so much easier. I already have lots of these brides, which is why I love my job.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
The best piece of advice I could give someone starting out is to have a real reason to achieve. If you can keep this in mind, you can do anything. Don’t settle for just a wage. Do what you love to do and have a real goal. Then start acting like you have already achieve it and it will manifest itself. I never really believed this until I tried it and it was life changing.
Inspiring Local Women
I hope you have enjoyed reading about these awesome women and what they have achieved in their lives. This is not a finite list so I will be adding to it as I continue on my journey. I will leave you with this final thought …
‘And one day she discovered that she was fierce,
and strong, and full of fire,
and that not even she could hold herself back
because her passion burned brighter than her fears.’