Penelope Hamilton has a restless streak and she’s lived in 27 different houses since she was ten. She keeps thinking she’ll settle somewhere permanently, but she hasn’t done it yet; having started out in Dorset in the south of England, she’s slowly moved north, eventually reaching Thurso, the most northerly town on the British mainland. Then, instead of getting the ferry over to Orkney, she rented out her house – she now lives on the road in her campervan.
Penelope studied English Literature & History of Art at Cambridge University and, when she’d graduated and wasn’t sure what to do next, she went to Teacher Training College in Lancashire. She was surprised to discover that she loved teaching, and that’s what she did for 20 years. Then, just after Scottish Devolution, she joined the expanding Scottish Government in Edinburgh.
Tragedy struck in 2006, when Penelope’s 19-year-old daughter died in a car crash – everything in her world fell into the abyss. It took time to emerge from the darkness and confusion, and by then her attitude to life had completely changed. She trained to be a humanist celebrant, and officiating at weddings, namings and funerals became her third and very fulfilling career.
For ten years and more, for the joy of marrying couples, Penelope has travelled to so-called remote spots all over the Scottish Highlands. She loves the natural world and wild places, and she’s grateful to the people who take care of them. She’s concerned about the impacts human beings have on the land, the environment and each other, especially in the context of modern lifestyles and climate change.
Penelope is interested in writing about the experience of being human: the richness of life, the ups and downs, the ironies and delights; things she observes in others, things she sees in herself; how we respond to the world around us, how we cope; our good intentions and lapses, our quirks and imperfections; the sense of wonder we have, our ability to think and care; how we feel, how we behave; our insights, similarities and differences, empathy and understanding.
Penelope always knew she wasn’t perfect, but in the past she couldn’t see her imperfections as clearly as she can now. Luckily, this insight grew at the same pace as a more compassionate attitude to human frailty; she gets annoyed and frustrated by faults and foibles in herself and others, but they give her a lot of amusement too.
About her writing story, Penelope says:
‘As a child, I assumed I’d be writer when I grew up. At home I daydreamed, earwigged conversations and made notes, and at school I worked hard at my novel. When I wasn’t reading, I was writing stories and poems and recording my life in a succession of secret journals, and I sent poems to friends and relatives and stories to magazines. I didn’t get anything accepted for publication, but this didn’t put me off, and I treasured the encouraging letter I received from an editor at Faber & Faber.
So when did I stop thinking I could be a writer, and why? Well, it wasn’t one particular event on one particular day, or one particular person or one unkind remark, but many combined together to strip my confidence away.
I kept writing, though, and the day came when a voice in my head said, “Why don’t you stop making excuses and get on with it and WRITE? Human life is finite – why not finish something before you die?”’
"How dare you waste a busy man’s time with your rubbish!"
Grandmother – also known as Grand Dragon
“Please stop sending me your poems.”
Best friend at school
“I thought you’d write something more literary.”