When that great power – known to some of us as God or Allah and to others as just the Universe – plucked my soul from eternity and sent it down into an earthly body I wonder what it was thinking! I’m sure I was quite happy up there zipping around the cosmos as some celestial orb or whatever I was. Indeed, the question of what I an exactly doing here is one that has plagued me intermittently all my life and now, in my fifth decade, I’m no nearer to answering it!
All I know is that it often isn’t easy being here. The Buddhist principle is one that that life constitutes suffering and , although I don’t exactly buy into that, there have been many times that just getting through the day has been a challenge. Some time ago I stumbled upon the phrase artistic temperament and bandied that about for a good while until it wore thin to be replaced by the less glamorous eccentric and offbeat . Whatever the word, all I can truly say is that my life has been full of ups and downs interspersed with long periods of tranquillity – but through it all there has been one real solace that has brought me endless comfort and a sense of purpose and that is writing!
Putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, is something I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember and I sometimes wonder if I picked up a pen instead of a rattle as a baby. I still recall my mothers “What Now!” expression as a teacher called her to one side at a parents meeting. I was the child who could have earned air miles for my trips to “the naughty corner” and I can still see the look of astonishment on her face as the teacher revealed page after page of stories written in my five year old hand when all they had expected were a few scribbled lines So I guess, to coin a phrase, the writing was on the wall way back then!
The bogey man didn’t live under my bed. I had a box full of half written stories and ideas as I realised that an imaginary world was a lot more interesting than the real one – but my childhood was also one of garden walks and tales of fairies sleeping in flowers that came from my wonderful grand mother who I take after, I now realise, along with climbing trees, secret dens ,riding bikes and ponies, chipping teeth on roller skates and devouring a good proportion of the local library.
Fast forward a few years and the post pubescent version of me thought I’d have a crack at writing a Mills and Boon romance that were all the rage at the time. Inspired by feminist, Germain Greer, I thought to make it just make it a little more edgy. I still remember sending off my manuscript – that bulky brown envelope sealed with Selotape winging its way along with my fifteen year old dreams dreams of becoming a ground breaking young writer. I never heard anything back – my ethos that you have to kiss a lot of toads before you meet your frog being definitely out of step with the M&B mindset of the time!
Fast forward a few more years and I’m working my first job after college. It is in the Police Control Room in my birth city of Swansea, South Wales, where, after a couple of weeks I am told that I’m to present the traffic news on the local radio station A sleepless night ensued with the script shaking in my hand as the microphone clicked live at 7 am the following morning.
The presenter down the line was friendly and chatted with me to help calm my obvious nerves. It was remains a memorable occasion as little did I now that I had just met my future husband and that this was the start of a twenty year radio career that would eventually take me to work in Malta, a former British colony nestled between Sicily and North Africa.
Several years later, and still in Malta, my new partner and I welcome a baby girl into the world as a sister to my six year old son. With no immediate family and two young children, my radio career goes on hold and I start to write for magazines. By the time my daughter is at preschool I’m working for several along with writing for newspapers who are often in completion with one another – thank goodness for pen names!
The Millennium was a milestone for everyone and for me signalled a return to work in British radio. Six years pass during which I work for two radio stations and rediscover my childhood love of horses until April 2006 I did what all intelligent people do – which is to give up a great job, sell the house and pack up my family that now also includes a dog and five horses and drive a 30 foot truck to begin a new life in a broken down farm in Sicily.
The Dolce Vita beckoned but getting there didn’t prove easy and I’m eternally grateful to Monty, our ingenious South African friend who had come along for the ride. The 1300 mile journey ended up taking eight days and saw us driving in rush hour Paris with half a gear box and literally running the lorry down a hill to get it onto the ferry in Calabria. When one of the horses showed signs off stress we drove 35 hours straight against the clock with the vet driving 200km to meet us.
I cant remember ever feeling so exhausted in my life but the jungle drums had been sounding and despite arriving at 4 am in the morning with a police escort through the mountains as the roads had subsided in recent floods, half the local village turned out to welcome us.
It seemed a perfect time to start memoir and I promise myself that I will one day finish “Candle in my ear”as the horse riding holiday centre we set up has to date hosted 65 nationalities and witnessed flash floods, wild fires, a nearby mafia murder and all sorts of shenanigans that make for perfect writing fodder!
The last decade has been no less tumultuous with a son in Malta and a daughter in Sicily I seem to ricochet between the two neighbouring islands. Writing, through all the ups and downs, has remaining a constant, a way of making sense of what is going on around me – but perhaps never as much since a diagnosis of breast cancer in July 2019.
There’s’ nothing quite like staring your own mortality in the face to make you appreciate each and every day – So in that respect I regard my illness as a gift as it made me realise that we are all slowly dying – just some of us faster than others. I count myself lucky. My treatment was a success and I am now in remission but it gave me the motivation to sit down and complete one the many stories in that box under the bed. Just in case!
The story that became Suspension had been formulating in a mind for a number of years. Every time I flew back to the UK I would pass below the Clifton Suspension Bridge and marvel at the magnificence of a structure that was so ahead of its time. It is also near a major film studios and a fitting location, I thought, for a film or a mini series. As I researched local history a story took shape with some of it influenced by events in my own life. Writers are like sponges and somehow things that happen to me or those around me have inadvertently found themselves onto the pages of my writing. For example, the opening scene at the beginning of the book was related to me by a friend whilst Buster the dog really exists (her name is Buffy). Others are composite characters with attributes taken from real people – such as Carla’s different coloured eyes of brown and blue that was my grandmother!
Encouraged by a good friend I picked up Suspension again while healing from Surgery. At the time just finishing it was my goal and it didn’t occur to me to think about publishing but as fate would have it I was to get an introduction to Echo Garret and Lucid House Publishing through a mutual friend, Marcia Williams Scaggs, over a lunch in Sicily. Sending off what I had written I was delighted when a week or two later Echo came back to me asking for the remaining chapters. The rest, as they say, is history.
During the process I came to realise that writing a novel requires significant stamina and that, above all else, it’s about staying the course, even when shrouded by self doubt and despair and I thank Echo and my friends, Dave and Paul, for encouraging me to keep going during the dark times. Soon after finishing the book I knew that a shift had occurred, a door unlocked, and it wasn’t long before I had a sequel in mind. With any luck IronBridge will be finished in the not too distant future and promises some surprises.
I know of people who like to read two different books at any one time. The same goes for writing and I’ve also started to simultaneously work on a project that is very different.
On my journey to recovery I was privileged to meet met some incredible people – patients, doctors and nurses. I saw blind courage, acceptance, grief and hope in the eyes of those alongside me in chemotherapy and Chemo Club is a tribute to them and their loved ones. It is a work of fiction but includes my own personal experiences and I identify strongly with Emily in the book. Others are composite characters drawn from people met along the way and include a dear friend who fought a courageous battle and who, whilst dying, taught me how to live.
I’ve laughed and cried whilst writing Chemo Club, as have friends who have read excerpts, but feel compelled to continue as Cancer, in its many forms, is a disease of this epoch. It touches us all in some way or another and, for many, it is their greatest fear. Above all else, Chemo Club is a book about living – after all, Life is short. We only have today and it’s not like any of us is coming out of this alive!
So here I sit, during these few snatched hours in front of the keyboard, with the coffee going cold waiting for the muse to put in an appearance. I can only hope that she will be benevolent when she does and that you will enjoy her words as much as I will writing them!