Annika Spalding has overcome challenges most people will never have to face. A mother of two young children, she has put her own childhood experiences behind her to forge a career as a writer, broadcaster and blogger, teaching life-affirming skills to women who, like her, have experienced domestic violence and sexual abuse.
It was the publication of her first book Shattered Dreams which first saw Annika grow in confidence. She works with women at projects in the Black Country, helping them believe that they too can recover from violent pasts.
Annika, who at just 27 had written and self-published four books before joining the Creative and Professional Writing degree at the University of Wolverhampton, said: ‘I felt empowered by writing and publishing my first book, and it opened up so many opportunities that I wanted to share the good feeling with other people.
‘I wouldn’t go about things the same way I did with my first book, though. I’ve gained some knowledge, and am on my degree course to improve as a writer. It was always my dream to go to university, and I can now say I’ve achieved that ambition. But I’m always thinking about the next challenge.’
Annika had a love of reading and writing from a young age, keeping diaries and notebooks even amid all the troubles at home. Her childhood involved time at a women’s refuge, and it was the death of her mother, when Annika was eighteen, that made her determined to succeed in life.
Growing up in an abusive household where she and her three siblings all experienced violence, escaping into books became at first a coping mechanism, and then a great love.
‘I was the one who asked for extra homework,’ Annika says. ‘When we moved to a new area I would always want to know where the library was. I was constantly writing stories. I loved English, and I loved learning.
‘It was an escape. I lived with constant anxiety as a child, and it went away when I read a book. Even now, I stop worrying when I’m in the world created by a novel.’
Annika says writing down her feelings helped, and from a young age she knew she wanted to write books. It was only later in life that she saw how possible that could be.
‘I had the idea for my first book before I had my first child. There was this image in my mind of a woman looking into a mirror, quite faded and pale, all the light gone from her eyes. It was like she barely recognised herself. I wanted to find out what had happened to her.’
It took four years and not much encouragement from her then partner to write her story.
‘I was writing it on and off, and gave up so many times. He’d pick faults with it when I showed him what I was writing, like he was only reading it to catch me out.
‘When we broke up, I finished the book.’
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is that I can depend on myself. It’s been a long road to that realisation and for a long time, life didn’t feel like it belonged to me. Something was missing, and I didn’t know what it was. I was covered in this blanket of uncertainty, muddling along, living day to day. Just existing. But I didn’t overcome life’s hurdles to simply exist, you know?I came here to live.In the past, I willed and trusted other people to save me, but I was always left stranded, fighting for myself. These days I’m not waiting for the hero to sweep in and rescue me from the hard bits of life. It should have happened when I was a child, but now I’m an adult I take the lead, I make the decisions, I plan ahead, I keep my best interests in mind, I’m in the driving seat, I’m in charge.I’m the author of my own story… and guess who’s the hero?
Annika has now nearly finished her degree. She blogs and hosts online networking events and workshops, delivers the What’s Your Story podcast on creative writing and speeches on confidence building, motherhood and motivation.
‘I love helping other people. I’m very passionate about setting goals for myself, and it’s great to help others head in the right direction.’
In addition to hosting workshops, Annika mentors new writers, helping them with their creative projects.
She says her biggest inspiration is strong women.
You can find out more about the work of Annika Spalding at her website.
The International Women’s Day 2018 campaign theme is #PressforProgress