A Time for Change

It’s been a while since I updated my blog, but I thought now would be an appropriate time to let you all know what I’ve been up to. 2016 is turning out to be quite a year, not least because at long last I’ve taken the decision to become a full time writer.

For those who have followed my writing career, you’ll know that publishing books wasn’t something I ever planned on doing. My first ever job was in local government, in waste of all things, and I’ve remained in the sector for a staggering thirty one years. I would probably have spent many more years ‘in waste’, if I hadn’t had my head turned by a completely different kind of career.

Although I landed my first book deal in 2011, I didn’t let my early success go to my head. I took the safe option and kept the day job, so for the last five years I’ve had to squeeze my writing into every spare minute. I’ve worked through most weekends, birthdays, and even Christmas Days, although I’m not complaining, how can I when it’s something that I love doing? There are so many aspiring writers out there who are working hard to get their first book published, and I never take it for granted how lucky I am to have six books published already and my seventh due out in January 2017.

To top it all, I’ve recently signed another book deal for four more books, writing two a year, and so it was inevitable that something had to give – and it wasn’t going to be my writing. Walking away from the day job was a huge decision to take, but I’m looking forward to being able to write full time, and who knows, I might even try to remind myself what it’s like to take time off?

I couldn’t have got this far without my wonderful agent, editor and publisher, not to mention all those readers who have read my books. I’m especially grateful to those who might have recommended my novels to someone else, or took the time to leave a review or send a comment; you have no idea how much reassurance it gives me that I’ve taken the right decision.

Doing this means so much to me for reasons I can’t even begin to express, but I’m going to try.

I’ll be finishing work in mid-November, which is shortly before the tenth anniversary of losing my son. I remember so vividly those early days of utter devastation and hopelessness. After spending months at his bedside, watching on helplessly as my little boy was destroyed by cancer, I had to leave the hospital without him, while the memories of that time will live with me forever. Ten years ago, I honestly didn’t think I could survive that kind of pain, I didn’t think I wanted to. But I carried on for the sake of my daughter and when I turned to writing to deal my grief, I would never have believed that it would eventually develop into something that could actually bring joy into my life.

It was part of the legacy Nathan left behind, and I give him full credit for my writing career. My achievements have been a direct result of his life, his influence, and his inspiration. He continues to change my family’s life in ways I could never have imagined and my decision to give up work is only one example. What an amazing little boy I was so blessed to have in my life. 

Wish me luck!

Another Way to Donate

I’m about to start writing a new novel and as always, it’s a daunting prospect to have so many empty pages and 100,000 words waiting to be written (then deleted, rewritten, edited, moved, etc, etc, etc) but this story feels different. Without giving away too much, which I couldn’t do anyway because much of it is still developing in my head, I can tell you it involves organ donation.

It’s a very emotive subject which involves a life-saving gift that comes not only from the donor but their family – after all, they are the ones who will be asked to carry out the donor’s wishes at what must be the single most devastating time of their lives. I already know it’s going to be a tough one to write and maybe this week isn’t the best time to start such a project as I creep ever closer to the anniversary of my son’s death. But then what better time to reflect on the amazing gifts that families like mine have received from strangers which gave our loved ones a fighting chance for life.

I don’t know how many people tried to save my son and that’s not even counting the incredible medical team at Alder Hey Children’s hospital. There were all those people who donated the blood that sometimes had to be ‘blue lighted’ over to the hospital, and then of course there was the unrelated bone marrow donor. I know the donor was male but that’s about all I do know about the faceless hero whose stem cells gave my son his only chance of survival and although Nathan died, at least I know he died cancer free. He beat you, Cancer! He may have lost the war but damn it, he was only three years old and he beat you.

And yet despite his courage and fortitude, this wasn’t a success story, so Nathan will never be a ‘poster boy’ for bone marrow donation, but I wish he was. It would be incredible if just one person reading this post would take time out to register as a bone marrow donor or even just give blood; it would be good to know that Nathan’s still making his mark on the world. And who wouldn’t want to give such an amazing gift when the best part is that you don’t have to wait until you die to do it? You get the chance to feel good about your altruistic self just by giving a little of your time and a unit of healthy cells.

Sorry, I didn’t meant to turn this into a personal campaign so I’ll leave it there…but if you do have a penchant for donating to good causes and your wallet’s taken too many hits of late then here are some other ways to donate:

Bone Marrow Register http://www.anthonynolan.org/

Give Blood http://www.blood.co.uk/

Organ Donors https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/

One final indulgence from me is to include a photo of Nathan.  He’s standing in the kitchen next to the cupboard that had his favourite Maryland chocolate chip cookies inside and I know he’s about to say, ‘only one.’ I couldn’t deny him anything. Could you?

Nathan in 2006

Nathan in 2006

 

Inspiring Writers

I was honoured to be invited along to the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind as part of the Off The Shelf Festival recently and since it was my first ever trip to Sheffield, I didn’t quite know what to expect.

I was met at the station by Julie Smith who gave me a whistle stop tour of the city – I can see now why it’s described as one of, if not the greenest city in England. I love Tudor history so I was particularly interested to see Sheffield Manor Lodge where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned. After the tour we then set off for Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind to join the Mappin Writers Group who shared some of their beautiful, funny, touching, emotive, thought-provoking and incredible writing and poetry.

It was a very special event at SRSB and I felt privileged to be able to talk about my third book Where I Found You and my heroine Maggie who is a visually impaired mum-to-be. I explained how challenging it was for me as an author to describe Maggie’s world in a non-visual way, but then I had to have words with myself… What kind of challenge was that compared to living without sight?! I can only hope that my novel came somewhere close to doing justice to those real-life mum’s, some of whom I met, who haven’t let their disability hold them back. All in all, I’m so glad I got to meet a remarkable group of people and to listen to their experiences coming through in their own writing.

Thank you to Sue Coggin for inviting me, to my fellow writers who made me feel so welcome and a special thanks to Julie Smith for the amazing poem she gave me. I would also like to thank SRSB for the flowers and the elephant – which I have now adopted and have a certificate to prove it. I think I’ve made some lovely friends in Sheffield and will have to go back there soon.

SRSB Elephant

Searching for Inspiration

Where do I get my inspiration for my stories from? It’s a question I’ve been asked many times but one I’ve never really found a satisfactory answer to and I’m not sure any writer could. What we’re all on the constant lookout for is the kind of storyline that will keep us awake at night until the final chapter is written and in turn will keep the reader enthralled until the very last page, but finding that initial idea or premise is more like a stumble in the dark rather than a carefully laid out route map.

Searching for Inspiration

Searching for Inspiration

I’ve recently returned from a lovely cruise along the Norwegian Fjords and the scenery was breath-taking and if I had my way, I would hire a cabin there with a picture window to soak up the view as I spent my days writing, and writing and writing. But while the stunning surroundings could inspire me to sit and write, I don’t think the craggy mountains and glassy lakes would ever help me catch upon the initial premise for that truly amazing story that I want to write. I would need to have my ideas at the ready before I closed the cabin door.

Thinking back to the novels I’ve written so far, those embryonic ideas that would lead to fully developed stories came out of nowhere; an advert on the side of a bus; a news report; jogging past a park bench; or reflecting on my own life and past experiences. The only thing they had in common was that they invariably started with that single thought, followed by enough questions that allowed my imagination to catch the spark of the idea and let it burn. Questions that usually began with ‘What if…’

So if I’m honest, if there was inspiration to be drawn from my holiday it’s not going to be the scenery. I’m more likely to get ideas for new stories from the people I’ve met and the conversations I’ve had – or just as likely, the people I’ve observed and the conversations I’ve overheard. Those potential stories are stored in my subconscious, waiting for that flash of inspiration that will turn them into stories that my fingers are itching to write. So now I simply have to wait for inspiration to strike…

 

Read ‘Me’

I love reading and I especially love that sense of anticipation and uncertainty when I start a new book and especially when it’s by a new author. Am I going to like the story? Are the characters going to be people I will love and admire, disagree with or even hate? What kind of world do they live in? How are they going to react as the story unfolds and would I do the same?

The more I’m drawn into a book, the more I become immersed in this other world which isn’t just constructed from the author’s imagination, because I just have to throw in my own embelishments. The way I visualise and interpret the story will be heavily influenced by my own experiences, values and perceptions.

But it was only recently while I was going through the latest rewrite of Leaving Me that I began to appreciate just how intimately an author’s experiences can be woven into the novel too. It can’t all be make-believe!

I have to admit that when I’m writing, I’ll sometimes make a conscious decision to include a little bit of me in my books. In Yesterday’s Sun and Another Way to Fall, there were certainly emotions that I could only have expressed because I identified so closely with them, but there have been more subtle elements added to my novels too. The painting Holly draws in Yesterday’s Sun, for example, was one of mine; the memory about one sister saving her Easter eggs to tease the other in Another Way to Fall was my memory too; and Maggie’s aromatherapy business in Where I Found You was fuelled by a hobby I once enjoyed. And then of course there’s the park bench which has a starring role in Where I Found You, it’s my bench, the one I can clearly remember sitting down on when I was contemplating being a mother for the very first time. If you want to find out more about that, you can read my blog on the Waterstones site [click here].

But it was only when I was rereading the draft manuscript for Leaving Me that I realised how much of me I’d put into it unconsciously.  Certainly some things I’ve used have been exaggerated and redefined but there are others that are a little too close for comfort. What they might be, I don’t think I need reveal just yet, if at all. Leaving Me will be out in Spring 2015 so I think I’ll wait until then to decide.

So now that I’m aware of this additional ingredient that I’ve put in my books, I’m starting to wonder if other author’s do the same and to what degree. And if they are there, could I spot them? I think I’d better pick up another book and see if I can… Any excuse to read!