Midlife Musings... Interview with Sharon Thompson, campaigner and author.
"I found that happiness can be fleeting but being truly at peace in the moment is a skill."
“A woman ‘has it all’ when she learns she is enough, has enough, and deserves the best.”
Every couple of weeks I’m posting an interview with inspiring midlifers on topics ranging from beliefs, goals and habits, to food, mood and mojo; from sex, success and style, to fitness, health and hormones, from sleep, skin and hair to career, change and challenges and a bit of whatever else you fancy that affects us women at midlife. This is the incredibly inspiring Sharon Thompson, campaigner for children’s palliative care and writer.
Do you ever meet someone and it feels like finding a long-lost member of a tribe you didn’t realise you belonged to? That’s how I felt when I met Sharon, at a writing event many moons ago when both of us loved words, but had none of our own published yet. We also loved drinking wine. And laughing. So that’s a tribe I like. We both had experienced pain so powerful it had transformed us, but she wore hers like an embrace, not a barrier, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for her as she just keeps evolving as a more and more glorious woman redefining midlife in so many ways.
She is the author of novels and short stories about empowered women (and may I add, lusciously good on sex 😍). She is also a campaigner for children’s palliative care and patient involvement in medical matters following the death of her beloved daughter Victoria.
I’d highly recommend her Substack sharonthompson.substack.com where she supports writers.
Here’s her thoughts on midlife, magic and making yourself happy.
Hi Sharon, why do you do what you do?
Our only baby daughter, Victoria died in Ireland’s only children’s hospice, from a painful, rare condition in June 2012. Following her death, at exactly nine months old, I started writing. Since then, everything I do is for her. I suppose it’s that simple. I’m nearing the end of my forties and still constantly figuring out the path I’m supposed to be on. I used to be a primary school principal teacher, which was easier to define, but now, my daily routine is not set.
I also run my own online and in-person writing groups. I write serialised fiction, short stories, screenplays… and anything else I can. I make long-term plans, and strive to make a difference everyday. However, I live in beautiful Inishowen in Donegal and spend a great deal of time online or staring at the sea.
What’s the best bit of advice you wish you’d been given sooner?
That I should not care about what people think.
Doing life differently is ok.
Love your own body whatever size it may be. It’s an amazing gift to be alive, able-bodied, and healthy.
Do more of what makes you happy.
Editors can sort out your worries about commas.
The list could go on and on. There’s always something new to learn, to absorb, to realise. I want to develop myself and my self-esteem. Feeling content is my main goal. I found that happiness can be fleeting but being truly at peace in the moment is a skill. I want to master being content.
What would you tell your 20 year old self?
I would try to tell her all of those pieces of advice but I couldn’t have understood those things then. I was too worried about everything. I’d tell myself that the universe would find a way for me to stop people-pleasing. That I’d be doing something I really want to do everyday and that I’d be loved and content.
What must have happened, or for you to have experienced or achieved that hasn’t yet, that you’d look back at 99 and say “Yes!”.
I’ve had four novels published so far, but I want more. I want to make a career from my writing; make a life from it, with it, and through it. I’m a full-time writer now but I want to make a decent living.
Tell us one of the toughest things you’ve gone through and what you learned as a result.
Victoria’s illness, diagnosis, and death took six months in total. Even as a writer, I cannot explain how that has affected and driven me. We’ve fundraised, made awareness campaigns and taken part in documentaries. I’ve spoken live on radio, TV, and at conferences. I make podcasts, moderate online support groups, consult on projects for children in hospices/hospitals, study medicines R&D, counselling, and advocacy and sit on panels and focus groups… wherever Victoria leads me.
Mostly though, I begin, uncertain about why I’m doing something, but at some point it becomes clear.
For instance, I found myself being interviewed for a place at a conference for palliative care in Salzburg. I was selected as one of the only parent/patient reps there for the three long days. This led me to be invited to speak at the World Health Organisation in Geneva, representing the World Hospice and Palliative Care Alliance. The Victoria Thompson delegation (that’s me) got to meet the head of World Health, Dr Tedros.
That said, I find the most inspiration from listening to mothers of life-limited children and spoke to some for my podcast ‘What’s It Really Like’. I produced ten episodes to highlight what daily life is like when you care for a child with complex medical needs, in Ireland. You can listen here.
I’m usually in the dark as to what the plan is until it happens.
Victoria could not die at home. When a child is diagnosed as life-limited, home is where most parents are pointed towards by hospitals and medical professionals. Understandably, most must go. To die a safe death, children (and adults) will need proper medications, nursing care, and equipment. This seems reasonable. Yet, it’s not always the case. We wish to continue raising awareness about this and progress is slow.
Yet… Victoria’s community of friends and loved ones fundraised tirelessly and we now give scholarships to nurses studying in children’s palliative care and complex care in Galway University. We’ve lectured to the student nurses there for years about our fight for hospice care, and we wanted them to feel supported in their studies. So, with the last of Victoria’s hundred’s of thousands, I reached out to Tommy Tiernan (comedian and all round Irish celeb) to come and present two cheques to nurses who applied for scholarships. And low and behold, (I should have trusted Victoria’s magic), a lone and handsome Tommy appeared, smiled for all the photos, asked a few wonderfully insightful questions, and then he promptly did a huge comedy gig for her scholarship to continue.
Victoria’s magic is always large. It creates huge impacts and is never-ending. I imagine sometimes that things are slowing down, only to find myself involved in research projects with Queens and UCD as their parent representative, or writing proposals for pilot programmes with national charities for support programmes for parents.
Victoria has me working every single day.
I’m told that speaking about angels and signs makes me sound deranged. But, it is my way of explaining the inexplicable. I wonder what the magic has in store next?
If you could wave a midlife magic wand, what you most wish for for women today?
Ha! After mentioning magic, I’ve just spotted this question is next. What magic do I wish for women?
I’d wish they were content in their own bodies, and with their own version of work, community, and family, in whatever form that takes. There’s huge pressure on women to look a certain way, work or not work, be a mother, not be a mother… have it all and be everything to everybody.
A woman has it all when she learns she is enough, has enough, and deserves the best. I want every woman to be content.
What matters most in your own midlife?
With the menopause looming I’m conscious of my health. I would like to enjoy life with my husband, and hope that my loved ones will be healthy and happy.
What is a midlife mantra you try to live by?
Do more of what makes you content.
What would you like to share about the work you do and why it’s important for women in midlife?
My writing always focuses on female central characters. If they’re not the main one then the message is about them. Despite all of the obstacles, they empower themselves. Even historical characters manage to do this too, despite all of the odds.
My writing can be found here - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sharon-Thompson/e/B078XZV9SD?ref_=dbs_p_ebk_r00_abau_000000
In my romance I’ve found joy in writing sexually empowered women. Recently, I saw social media posts mocking the need to write sex scenes. It made me angry. What is wrong with sex, pray tell? I write steamy romance where the women are in charge of their power while exploring their own sexuality. For a long time, I shied away from marketing it. Then I realised the ridiculousness of the situation… if I write about empowered women why am I not one?
My pen name is Penny Best and my published novels are pennybestwriter.com
I’m published on a serialised hot romance platform in American too. https://radish.app.link/wGk2dYf6yAb
I’ve tried all forms of publishing but it’s now important that I have control of my own writing. I think as women approach mid-life we are less tolerant of the bullshit, and if we are savvy, and put in the work, then why should we worry about rocking the boat and trying something new?
In this vein, I’m attempting a new initiative where three of my novel length stories are serialised and published in three or more episodes every week for a whole year. The first of three separate titles is inspired by true events.
The Donegal Gold is about when two women, one hundred years apart, who become perilously obsessed with sunken treasure:
If people wish to write and join my supportive online writing community, they might also like to check out; sharonthompson.substack.com
@sharontwriter is my twitter handle.
Sincere thanks for asking me to contribute to this Alana and I wish all of your readers and clients a content mid-life.