I’ve stalled on writing my first novel. I don’t know why; it’s not writer’s block, exactly, just that I haven’t felt like writing it for months. I got to about 8,000 words and then sort of mentally put it in a drawer.
It’s called ‘Alexander Black’s Peculiar Year’ and it’s about a slightly depressed, lonely man in his late 30s whose life is turning out to be rather mediocre. One cold grey January day he walks out of his job as the editor of a business magazine, after hearing a the voice of a woman in his head. Then the mysterious young woman to whom the voice belongs turns up on his doorstep and moves into his spare room… I can’t let you in on what happens after that, but I promise there will be a happy ending. I do love a happy ending.
I’m still excited about the story; it already exists in its entirety in my head, and really it’s just a question of getting it on paper. But. It just doesn’t feel like the right time, and I was confused by this (and feeling lots of ‘shoulds’) until me and DH had a slightly tipsy Thirsty Thursday chat about it and he hit the nail on the head. ‘Pinchos,’ he said. ‘I just don’t think the novel is meant to be your first book. I think your cancer blogs need to be your first book.’
Whoah. That’s an idea. We talked about it some more. We may have gone a bit Los Angeles, as words like ‘closure’ and ‘therapy’ (for both of us) entered the conversation. Then DH said he’d like to include his thoughts and emotions too, about what it’s like being a husband and father of young children when your wife is diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Writing isn’t really his thang, particularly not writing about, y’know, feelings and shit. So we agreed that he would talk and I would take notes (dusting off my journalism skills) and we would include his perspective on key moments in the story.
The first step was to put all my cancer blog posts into one big document. I’ve just double checked and they amount to pretty much 60,000 words. Seriously. That’s a lot of cancer chat. Basically, it’s book-length already. I started with a light edit. Including our names, and our children’s names, for instance, getting rid of hyperlinks and giving a little more useful explanation of the terms, process and treatments involved. I began adding in stuff that I hadn’t talked about at the time for whatever reason. Creating a little more of a coherent narrative. Although because I spent so much time writing and editing each post in the first place, each post already feels like a natural ‘chapter’ – they are all of similar length, and have a beginning, middle and end. There’s funny bits and tear-inducing bits and warm fuzzy bits and plenty of drama. Real life, in other words.
I cried a lot, re-reading all the posts through as one body of work. Even at this distance, it makes me feel quite bilious. There were entire bits of my ‘journey’ that I had completely forgotten about, and aspects of the treatment came back to me with a jolt. I guess the subconscious has to tuck some memories away at the back of the cupboard; remembering everything, all the time, would be too much to bear.
I started work on the project in the summer. The wonderfully long, sunny summer hols caused a hiatus. Then the start of term was a bit weird because me and DH (and no doubt our families) were quietly counting down to the three year anniversary of my diagnosis, and therefore my annual mammogram and check-up with my surgical consultant Tracey Irvine. Throughout the weeks leading up to 13 October, I was preoccupied, and sleepless, and tearful. I began, like this time last year, noticing miscellaneous aches and pains. I felt a constant, low-level fear. Because what if it’s not good news, and we have to go through it all again, probably with less positive outcomes? What if I didn’t get that three year tick in the box? What if we weren’t actually over the hump in the five year period beyond which I would generally be considered to have escaped another invitation to the cancer party?
In the event, all was well. Tracey poked and prodded and squeezed every inch of my boobs, glands and torso, sneaked me in for an immediate mammogram (always a delightful experience…) so I didn’t have to come back again a week later, got my bloods taken, and then looked me in the eye and said ‘You’re fine’. Huge relief, I can’t tell you. The mammogram results came back just three days later confirming that there was no sign of breast cancer. Thumbs up all round. Phew.
So I’m again ready to pick up the work in progress I think of as ‘The F*ck Cancer Diaries’, and make it happen. It’s shaping up as half-memoir, half actually-quite-useful book for the growing number of relatively young women diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and their partners and families. One of our friends suggested we call it ‘Walking Two Abreast’, which is a marvellous pun. I’ve had a huge volume of very positive comments over the past three years about the way I have written about my experiences, and I really hope the book is a worthwhile endeavour. A goer, as it were.
But I don’t know the first thing about book publishing, and I need your help and support, please. I would like, very much, your comments here on what you think of the idea so far. Is it a good one? Would you read it? What else do you think I might include? Know any agents or publishers? Have any advice on self-publishing? That sort of thing. If you could pass on the link to this post to anyone you know who might have thoughts or ideas or contacts, I would be terribly grateful. Merci beaucoup.
Because this feels like the right thing to be doing, now. The thing I need to do to finally close this extraordinary chapter, and move on to the next bit of the story. And one of those happy endings I am so very fond of.
It’s an amazing idea, you really must do it!! A few friends of mine have been through similar experiences with cancer and I’ve often thought how helpful it would be to point them towards your blog. I just remember it being so upbeat and positive. I think something like this, especially for people going through it, would be useful, as well as shedding light on the whole experience for those of us who have so far been fortunate enough not to have had the experience. I definitely know more about it now than I would have before reading your story, I really had no idea at all what people have to endure and all the different aspects from treatment, to the rest of the family’s experiences and so on. Definitely it would be good to have DH’s side of the story, and perhaps also other members of your family?
Someone I work with has just published a book, I will ask him for more information of how – I know he has used social media a lot to get it out there. I believe there is also a website, lulu.com, where you can publish your own but don’t know much about it.
I like the name, shame you can’t just use f*** cancer diaries… or could you? Might be a bit much for some people I guess, but it’s what it was all about in the end.
Best of luck with this Madge, go for it!! xxx
Thank you dearest Helen, from across the years, for your lovely comments and support and useful pointer – you are a star! Much love gorgeous xxx
Hi I think publishing would be brilliant, I also think you should call it The F*cked Cancer Diaries, it has a good ring to it. Good luck with it. Xxx
Thank you lovely cuz! xxx
Oh my lovely friend, I am crying just thinking about all that amazing writing you did when others (well me mainly!) around you were flailing and trying to find a way to cope on your behalf. This book will be amazing because you are. Simple xx ps: I have a friend who recently self published – I will put you in touch..xx
Aw, thank you darling girl! I promise you I didn’t notice anyone flailing – just tonnes and tonnes of love. xxx
I always thought this would be your first book too! It’s going to be amazing! I have some ideas about publishing which I will share with you when we next meet.
Thanks Bernie – glad you have such faith in me! xxx
I have never had a family member (thankfully) suffer with the Big C so reading your blogs was enlightening and informative as well as making me consider how my family and I might react in similar circumstances. I think the shock of reading the first C blog after reading about the general family ups and downs was so stunning and then I was gripped with wanting to know that you would come through it and that it would all be alright again. I remember reading your I’ve Fxd cancer blog when you got that all clear and feeling so pleased for you and your family. I think yes you should write the book and DH’s input and pov will be informative to so many too and of course there is the catharsis of the process for you both…. and one day your children too will read this as grown ups as a record of that time in their lives that they didn’t fully understand at the time. Good luck and go for it. The value of your experience and the knowledge you garnered and described to lay people so clearly is important.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful response honey. I hadn’t thought about it being a ‘legacy’ for the children – so true that they were barely aware of what went on, and they’ve certainly never heard the ‘C word’. xxx
I would definitely read it. I think many other younger women would find it useful to read something written by someone who has been through it and come out the other side. I found your blogs at the time moving, educational and positive. Tears flowed more than once, both happy and sad!
Go for it!
Thank you lovely! xxx
Definitely!!! I’d read it! Having gone through it, it can be hard to find people who understand what your going through, and I always found blogs such an invaluable source of information, and basically reassurance that what I was feeling was ‘normal’. Today, having just read your blog post has given me another perspective on the pains in my neck and my approaching two year anniversary! Yep, perhaps they are just pains from spending too much time on my bloody ipad, but naturally at this time of year I fear the worse!! Do it!!! My god it will be emotional for you, but good for you, and hopefully those who read it. Good luck x
Bloody love the way you write. You definitely must write the book – and I agree with one of your other commenters, the title needs to have f*ck in there somewhere! I know a couple of publishers based in London if you wanted details. You need to get this on the shelves – I wanna read it!!!
I love the sound of your book, keep going I can’t wait to read it!