IN THE SHOES OF… Vanessa Harbour

What's it like to be in someone else's shoes? Deputy Editor Fran Price invites an author or illustrator to describe a typical working day. This month, we share footwear with author and lecturer, Vanessa Harbour.

To understand my day, you need to know a bit about me. I wear multiple hats: I’m an author, an academic, I support aspiring writers, I’m a mother, a grandmother and I’m disabled! All these things have an impact on my day in some way as you’ll see.


Vanessa Harbour: 'I wear multiple hats'


Wake up but keep my eyes shut and doze until 7.00am when the alarm goes off. I groan a lot. I’d like to say I bounce out of bed, but it doesn’t quite happen like that. The first thing I do is take the mass of medication I need to keep me going. What happens next is dependent on what hat I’m putting on.


If it’s a university day, I get sorted and leave by 7.45am. Dropping off my twin step grandchildren at Sixth Form College on my way. We have some very intense conversations during the journey.


A university day can consist of lectures/workshops, meetings with colleagues or students. This year I’ve been lecturing mainly third years, who’ve been wonderful. They all say I should be a motivational speaker but that’s because I like to give them support when they need it. I’m all about encouraging and am renowned for going off at a tangent.


'I take an enzyme-based liquid which has lots of nutrition'

If I’m lecturing in the morning, I’ll then head home to do meetings via Microsoft Teams. These might be with colleagues or my PhD students. This is so I can have a feed. This is part of my disability: I can’t eat properly so I take an enzyme-based liquid which has lots of nutrition in via a PEG tube into my stomach using the bolus method (a massive syringe). If I’m lecturing in the afternoon, I need to come in first thing to get parked, which means I’ll take no nutrition until I’ve finished. Those are exhausting days.



Deal with emails. Check social media and do any marking and/or write feedback on student’s work.



Bolus feed again. I should add that these make me feel rotten.



Lie on my bed with my laptop and start to work on my projects. This might mean editing if I’ve deadlines or writing a new project. I might also plan blog posts/resources/workshops during this time. I should also add that as you can imagine my head is full of other people’s words at this stage and very fragmented.

 'Now my fragmented brain is mended by golden lacquer in the form of poetry or writing'
[Picture credit: Wikimedia]

I always think of it like the Japanese Kintsugi where they mend fragmented pots with gold lacquer. Now my fragmented brain is mended by golden lacquer in the form of poetry or writing that is nothing like the writing I’m doing. I read it for ten minutes or so to clear my head of everything else. Letting the beautiful images inspire because it’s so totally different to the middle grade I’m writing. It pulls together my fragmented brain.


Now… if it is a non uni day (Thursday/Friday)



I might do some marking, dealing with emails and checking up with social media. This is when I take an opportunity to schedule social media posts. Plan ideas for future posts and make notes.



I can be editing or writing depending on what’s needed. Sometimes I’ve a couple of projects on the go at a time. My writing process is that I write cold and edit hot. This means I get the basic story down first, so I know the structure works. When I edit, I put all the colour – the detail – in. The process allows me to write a first draft very quickly, but the editing is much slower. 

If I’m not writing, I might occasionally use it for zoom meetings with other writers when we want to give each other moral support because sometimes writing can be a lonely occupation. Or it may be with aspiring writers as this is something I occasionally do when they’ve approached me and asked for help. If I’m not talking to them, I might be reviewing their manuscripts.

'I love trees — I find they are revitalising'
[Picture credit: Fran Price]


Time for a bolus feed and a break outside if I’m feeling well enough. I walk with a crutch, and it might depend on how painful my joints are. I love trees so I try to walk where there are some because I find they are revitalising. The sound of the wind rustling through leaves or branches is wonderful and very distinct. Both my novels, Flight and Safe, have quite a few trees and forests in them.



I’ll be doing research – something I love and am passionate about. Writing historical fiction means getting details right where possible or rather not getting them wrong. Though if it’s my day to do pick up, I go and get my youngest grandson from primary school and I’ll wave at my Yr 6 grandson as he walks home with his mates, he’s too cool to be picked up now. I used to get a wave back, however, as the year’s progressed, I just get the side eye as he’s grown into a definite tween! I then stay with them until my daughter returns from work, hearing all about their school day. It’s wonderful to spend time with them. My little people are very important to me. 

'I love to write, and it’s good for my mental health'


Back writing. I love to write, and it’s good for my mental health. If I’m under a lot of pressure, whether marking or preparing lectures, and my writing time gets squeezed then I’m conscious of the impact on my mental health. I can feel the black dog creeping in as depression envelopes me. 


If I’m on a roll I might continue writing. But my stamina is not great. I’ve also got Long Covid so I get tired very quickly. (I can often be found having a quick power nap in the afternoon if I’ve taught in the morning.) I end up putting rubbish on the TV in the background or some music on depending what mood I’m in and will read at the same time. When I read, it might be children’s fiction, non-fiction, or fiction. Depending on what grabs me. I take that mass of medication again then I fall asleep much earlier than I used to ready for another day.

*Header image by Alex Crump; all images except trees: Vanessa Harbour.


Vanessa Harbour is a disabled author. Her novel Flight was published by Firefly in 2018 and by Feiwell & Friends in the US in 2021. The sequel Safe will be published by Firefly in 2022. Flight was shortlisted for the Branford Boase and as a Guide for Empathy Read, 2020. It’s now been Shortlisted for the Panda Book Award, China, 2022. She’s a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester.
Twitter: @VanessaHarbour plus various other social media


Alex Crump is an illustrator based in Wiltshire, with past careers as both a teacher and a zookeeper, as well as other current side lines of storyteller and charity/museum educator.
Instagram: @alexcrumpillustration

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