A Special Thank You

When my publisher suggested we have an official book launch for the release of my fourth book The Missing Husband, throwing a party sounded like a great excuse to have some fun. Even as I sipped a glass Prosecco in Liverpool One with the fabulous team at HarperCollins before heading over to Waterstones for the official event, I wasn’t expecting it to be more than a lovely opportunity to gather friends and family together to join in the celebrations. I never imagined I would get so emotional until I was standing in front of all those people who had supported me along the way. And when I say emotional, I mean we were all in tears.

Getting emotional!

Getting emotional!

There are only few occasions when you have a chance to bring together all the people who have been important in your life, but this was certainly one of them. It was a rare opportunity to say thank you to everyone and to let them know how important their support has been to me. The speech I was planning should have been simple enough to deliver because I’ve been doing quite a few author talks lately in the run up to publication day, and I was happy enough chatting about not only my new novel, my writing habits and my story development, but how I came to be a writer in the first place. I’ve visited libraries and explained to readers how I only had three years and ten months with my son but that little boy transformed my life. I’ve gone on to explain how Nathan’s death changed me, but it was his life that inspired me. I’m comfortable talking about my son and my grief, but standing in front of everyone that evening at the book launch, I didn’t need to do any of the usual explaining because they already knew. So many of those familiar faces looking at me with tears in their eyes had been part of that journey, from my amazing family and friends who supported me and my daughter through Nathan’s illness and beyond, to the new friends I’ve made along the way.

Kim Young and Martha Ashby

Kim Young and Martha Ashby

My publisher Kim Young and editor Martha Ashby said some lovely things about me in their introductions, so they have to share some of the blame in making me so emotional! But if there was one thing that got to me most of all, it was looking at my beautiful daughter in the crowd and (when I wasn’t getting all choked up) being able to tell her how proud I am of her and how much she means to me. I have been blessed with two amazing children and that’s why I enjoy writing books that centre around motherhood and family relationships. Being a mother is the most important role I’ve taken on in life and I’m still learning.

In spite of the tears, you’ll be pleased to know I did enjoy the evening although with so many people there it was impossible to spend as much time as I would have liked with everyone. Thank you (again) to everyone who came to the book launch and a special thanks to Kim, Martha and the rest of the team at HarperCollins for making publication day a day to remember.

A Time and Place

When I write a novel, I keep track of the timeline by putting specific dates to particular scenes, even if that information is never shared with the reader. Sometimes it helps because although the day or date isn’t mentioned, there might be some reference to past events and I need to know if that should be last week or months ago! Some of those dates stick in my mind.

This week has been very exciting, not least because I received a proof copy of my next book, The Missing Husband and this was the first time I had held a physical copy of my work – such a proud and terrifying moment. Surprisingly, however, it was the novel due out in January next year that has been occupying my mind in the last few days – or to be more precise, was on my mind on Thursday 23rd April 2015 which just happened to be World Book Night.

My fifth novel has a working title of The Wishing Tree and as I may have mentioned before, it’s based around the Allerton Oak which is a thousand year old tree in Calderstones Park, Liverpool. I’ve recently finished the latest draft, firming up the timeline and I knew that Thursday was the day that my two main characters would first meet. The park is close to home so of course I had to be there at the moment their paths cross. I can’t tell you how strange it was standing beneath the sprawling oak as that crucial scene played out in my mind. I’m almost disappointed that when I took this picture the lens failed to capture my characters too.

23rd April 2015

The Allerton Oak, Calderstones

I know there’s still a bit of a wait until that particular book is published and I wish I could tell you more about what is missing from this picture – suffice to say it should have revealed a broken man with a secret past and a vulnerable child who would become convinced by the tree’s magic powers.

The Work Goes On

I was lucky enough to be invited along to the Cancer Research UK laboratories in Liverpool recently and I can’t even begin to describe how much of an impact the visit had on me but this blog is my attempt to put those feelings into words.

My son was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia when he was twenty one months old and during his treatment, I felt powerless to help him.  For a period of about eighteen months while his cancer remained indolent all I could do was research my son’s disease as much as I could so that I was best placed to be his advocate.  That was over seven years ago and I’ve forgotten much of what I learned but now all of those memories have come flooding back.

An oncologist once told the parents of a little boy that the treatment they were about to embark upon would one day be considered barbaric.  Their child had the same type of leukaemia as my son and eventually Nathan faced an identical course of treatment, only his consultant referred to it as ‘heroic measures.’  It involved pumping three different types of chemo into his small body over a matter of days to stop his bone marrow from producing cancerous blood cells, quickly followed by a bone marrow transplant.  And when my son was at his lowest, it also involved withdrawing anti-rejection drugs so the new cells would fight Nathan’s own cells and kill off any residual cancer.  The life-saving treatment was so intensive that it was also life-threatening.  It was a lot to ask of a three year old and in Nathan’s case, too much and he died a month after the transplant.

Talking to the staff at the labs, I realised just how much there is still to do, not only in the search for a cure but in the treatment protocols that patients of all ages must endure if they are to stand any chance of getting that all important ‘all clear.’   Yes, cancer treatment has come on in leaps and bounds but with more people developing cancer than ever, now is not the time to take our eye off the ball.


Cancer Research Lab -Liverpool

Since I lost my dad to cancer some twenty years ago, I’ve always supported cancer charities. I’ve completed nine Race for Life events with my daughter for Cancer Research UK and I ran the London Marathon for the Children with Cancer charity.  But until now, I never stopped to think how the funds raised might be used.   Other than coming across the occasional awareness campaign or reports on the latest statistics or break-throughs, the work undertaken by cancer research charities isn’t particularly visible or obvious.  In the labs, I was able to see some of that research first hand. There were stacks of Petri dishes containing live tumour cells and experiments to see what effect different drugs had on the cancer, the aim being that when those drugs are used, patients are given enough to do the most damage to the faulty cells and the least damage to the healthy ones.  I saw that kind of balancing act when Nathan was being treated, treatment which was based on the best knowledge at the time but which caused horrendous side-effects that are simply too painful to describe.  I have to believe that one day there will be a better way.

What heartened me most about my visit to the Cancer Research UK labs was hearing how much collaboration goes on behind the scenes.  It’s not just about individual organisations working to serve their own interests but a joint approach with other cancer charities, the pharmaceutical companies, the universities and the doctors, all working together for one common cause – to beat a disease that is likely touch everybody’s life in one way or another.

Cancer is on the increase and where I live in Liverpool, in the North West, statistically I’m more at risk.  We all know how to reduce those risks (quit smoking, drink less, eat healthily, exercise, avoid sunbeds and sunburn and generally be aware of the subtle changes in our bodies to spot the early signs) but we can’t eliminate those risks completely – if a three year old child can get cancer then none of us are immune.

What happened to my family was the single most traumatic experience of my life and it continues to affect me.  I became a writer to make sense of what happened and writing my second book Another Way to Fall placed me back amongst the kind of devastation that cancer can bring.  The novel is brimming with strong and inspirational characters who would much prefer to lead ordinary lives.  The same was true of my family.  I didn’t want my life to change, I didn’t want my son to have to be that strong.  I would rather Nathan’s treatment had been a little less barbaric and that he hadn’t been called upon to be so heroic.  The truth is, I would rather he was still here and while I have no choice but to accept that can’t happen, I can still pray that the next child won’t have to be so heroic.  It’s a hope, and one that’s kept alive by the amazing work of the scientists, doctors and fundraisers that I’m dedicating this blog to.

Thank you to Emma Squibb and Jamie Wilson for giving me such a thought-provoking tour.

Phew! Thank goodness that’s over with…

It’s the 21st December tomorrow and the end of the world as some would have us believe.  I don’t mind admitting that I’ll be waking up on Saturday morning with a certain sense of relief but it has nothing to do with the Mayan calendar.  Friday is also the shortest day of the year and even though the worst of winter is still ahead of us, there’s something reassuring about knowing that the days are beginning to stretch out again.

I have a north facing garden and come October, the shadow cast from my house begins crawling down the length of the lawn, creeping up the back fence and within weeks, the whole garden is plunged into shade.  But after tomorrow, that shadow will start to withdraw and by March, the sun will finally hit the ground at the bottom of the garden and spring and summer will be within reach.

My obsession with the seasons has managed to transfer itself onto the page and it’s only as I’m writing this blog that I’ve begun to realise how much.  In Yesterday’s Sun, when Holly is propelled forward in time, the first thing she notices is the change in her surroundings but because she’s always in the same place, in front of the moondial in the middle of her garden, that change is in the environment.  In one scene she’s transported from a garden bearing autumn fruits to one shimmering in the night with springtime blossom and then in another scene she moves from a balmy summer’s night to a wintry snowstorm.  In Another Way to Fall the focus on the seasons is more pronounced.  We meet Emma in late autumn but she, like me, is longing to see the spring.  She wants to see the trees explode into bloom because she interprets this as nature’s demonstration of survival.  So she too would be looking forward to getting past the shortest day of the year.

So why do I focus so much on the transitions from one season to another?  I suppose it has something to do with the sense of constancy it brings to an otherwise unpredictable world.  I can agree with the doomsters on one fact, none of us can take tomorrow for granted.  Neither can we cling onto the good times forever or stop dark times descending without warning but we can draw some comfort in knowing that there’ll be a few minutes extra daylight on 22nd December and a little more light each following day for the next six months.  So despite the unpredictability, I for one am planning on hanging around and hope you’ll join me in a collective sigh of relief on Saturday if only long enough to prepare for the chaos that Christmas brings.

Merry Christmas everyone 🙂

A Time to Pause

November is a difficult time for me, a time when my mind draws me back to the past.  I’m reminded of all the reasons my life, my perspective and my priorities have changed so much in the last six years but mostly I’m reminded of the little man who went through such awful things and who taught me so much.  My son Nathan.

But even as I stand still and reflect, the world doesn’t stop with me.  Everything moves on and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I haven’t moved on from the death of my son, I’m not ‘over it,’ but I have accepted that life has continued and that I’ve been swept along with the flow of time.  So as I stood still for a little while this month, life has continued at a pace and with a deep breath I’m back in the present catching up with all my author duties.

That oh-so important contract for books three and four has now been signed although there was a little surprise in there for me.  As well as two new books, HarperCollins would like me to write two short stories.  Gulp!  It’s most definitely a new challenge and after the initial shock I’m starting to quite like the idea of working on something that should take shape much more quickly than the year-long process of finishing a full length manuscript.

So what else is new…the dates for publication have so far been confirmed as 14th March 2013 in the UK for Another Way to Fall and 12th February 2013 in the US for Yesterday’s Sun.  I’m also thrilled that along with Yesterday’s Sun, Another Way to Fall is also going to be published in Germany.

As I write this I’m on my way home after another trip to London where yesterday I met my new editor Kim Young who’s covering maternity leave for Sarah and to top the day I was invited to the Harper Fiction Christmas Party at the Ivy.  I had an absolutely lovely time and it was really good to get to know more of the team at HarperCollins as well as meeting some pretty fab authors too.  Writing can be quite a solitary profession so thank you to Harper for arranging this festive group hug!

And now I take another deep breath…I’m looking forward to another exciting year knowing full well how privileged I am to have good friends and family around me who help me look to the future without ever losing sight of the past.