In writing my review of the year, I’d have to say all was going well, very well, the main character was on a roll and the story arc built us up to a powerful mid-point, then there was a surprising twist, that nobody saw coming, a life-threatening situation, some heroism by a tall, dark stranger, and then a long journey of self-discovery. We leave the story at the end of the year on a bit of a cliff-hanger, but there will definitely be a sequel.
I’m not talking about fiction here, or even world events, just my own, normal life. January 2015 saw the re-publication of my debut novel, To Catch a Rabbit, with Allison and Busby. A fantastic new cover, a new copy edit, and it was out in the world. PCSO Sean Denton was finding new readers. The audio book, brilliantly narrated by Jonathan Keeble, followed on Audible, and I was working on the final edits of the second book in my series, Bones in the Nest. In May I was bursting with pride as my sister, Ruth, became an MP in her home constituency of Brentford and Isleworth. We may be late starters, but we were both realising lifelong ambitions. In July, I had two wonderful launch events for Bones in the Nest, one in London and one in York, followed by a signing session at Waterstones, Doncaster; Sean Denton’s home town. There were several other events lined up, but in the end, I only managed a couple more.
Exactly one week after my launch, I was diagnosed with an aggressive, oestrogen positive, breast cancer. Since August, treatment has been my main focus. I’ve had a single mastectomy and, at the time of writing, I’m two thirds of the way through chemotherapy. I’ll be having radiotherapy in February and then I’ll been on tablets for a few more years.
There have been many silver linings in this cloud. My husband and sons have been wonderful, kind, careful, hilarious and tolerant. My younger son shaved off his hair at school to raise money for Breast Cancer Care; so far he’s nearly reached £2000. My friends and family have been constant and generous, and I have never, ever, felt alone. My surgeon (the tall, dark stranger from paragraph one) was honest and reassuring, but also talked about Dickens, which made me smile. My oncologist is straightforward and witty, and they have both given me enough information to feel optimistic about the outcome. I haven’t found the process of treatment to be as bad as I had expected, just very tiring. Like Inuit words for snow, I am developing a new vocabulary to describe the various manifestations of fatigue. The nurses at my local hospital, the staff in the Cancer Care Centre and the District Nurses are lovely, kind, funny, brilliant people. A cancer diagnosis brings out the best in everyone, friends, family, professionals, and complete strangers. It has given me a glimpse of how the world could be, if we were all just a bit kinder to one another every day, without waiting for a crisis.
In the middle of what could have been a miserable time, came the news that I’d sold the television rights to both my books (see my earlier post). This was a tremendous boost and although it’s in very early stages, it’s a great step forward for the Sean Denton stories.
I’ve been cheered up, many times, by readers and bloggers, writing kind things about my books, whether in a review or a personal message or by sharing on social media. You didn’t know what I was going through, but I hope you realise now just how important and wonderful your feedback was. I am still writing my third book, at a slower pace than I would like, but even if I only work for twenty minutes a day, I am keeping it alive and it is gradually getting there. I’ve also had time, in shorter bursts of energy, to map out storylines for future books. But sometimes my brain is too foggy from the chemo to write.
The novelist Joanne Harris gave the following advice to writers: if you can’t write, read. And I have been reading widely, some of which I will blog about in the New Year (if my chemo brain can remember any of it). I would also add to Harris’s advice, if you can’t read, listen: Radio 3 in the middle of the night when the steroids keep me wide awake, Radio 4 drama, and, of course, audiobooks. Lots of audiobooks. My favourites so far are Jenny Blackhurst’s How I Lost You, brilliantly narrated by Jennifer Ness, and Snowblind, by Ragnar Jonasson, narrated by Thor Kristjansson, who has a voice like falling snow.
I walk most days, sometimes a very gentle stroll around my local park, or once a week with my new-found joy, the Nordic Walking group for breast cancer patients. Otherwise I chill out, watch TV or stare out of the window. It’s not so bad. Friends drop by, or phone, and I stay in touch with friends and family further afield on social media. My sister phones frequently while walking over Westminster Bridge on the way to her new job. Meanwhile, my own corner of the crime writing community has lived up to its well-deserved reputation, and wrapped me in a cosy blanket of friendship, love and ribaldry. (This is the bit where I sound like a Christmas party drunk: you know who you are, I flipping love you lot!) And I’d also like to mention two lovely young women, who’ve been there before me, Vicky and Amy. Your advice and gifts (both real and emotional) have sustained me more than you can know.
As 2015 comes to a close my persistent little debut novel is currently in the Amazon Kindle sale (although I’m more than happy for you to get a real book in a real bookshop, or buy someone else’s book, there’s some amazing stuff out there.) It’s climbing back up the rankings and maybe it will make the top 100 by Christmas. It’s great to have two books out, carrying on regardless, like happy offspring. Some time soon, another one will join them.
So that’s it. My year. Not what I’d planned, but not without its great moments. A year of love, a year of thinking about what matters, of being forced to slow down and finding that slow is beautiful. I don’t feel brave, that implies a choice. I prefer the term Radical Acceptance, which I read about in a book on Mindfulness (yeah, I know, that’s another thing I never thought I’d say). I trust the doctors; I am thankful for a free NHS; and my wish and hope for 2016 is that all those who’ve been looking after me are valued as much as they should be. My wish for myself is obvious.
So, here’s to 2016, a new year and new opportunities!