Guest author: Amanda James – Do You Believe in Psychic Powers?

A big welcome to fellow Urbane author, Amanda James, today and very happy to be the last stop on her blog tour for her latest novel, Summer in Tintagel. This is Amanda’s fifth novel but her first with Urbane…

I thought I’d have a chat to you about my novel that’s just out, Summer in Tintagel, and also about one of the main threads weaving the story together. I have always wanted to visit Tintagel and so went with my husband one cold but sunny winter’s day, not too long after we moved to Cornwall. It is known for being a place of magic and mystery; so of course, the writer in me immediately woke up and started taking mental notes.

As we climbed the very steep and precarious hundred or so steps up the cliff edge to the ruined castle, surrounded by the myths and legend of King Arthur and his sidekick Merlin, the sun came out and a beautiful rainbow arched across the ocean. The title for my book came to me then, as did the bare bones of the story, though it was a bit sketchy to say the least. I was working on another book at the time, so put Summer in Tintagel on the back burner for a while.

We went back to Tintagel in June and visited the ancient church on the headland and then everything fell into place, the beginning, the middle and the end. I don’t believe in any organised religion, but I am a spiritual person. I do think there is something beyond the flesh blood and bone of a person – something ‘otherworldly’ that not all of us can tap into perhaps?

Or is it because we don’t have time to contemplate those ideas, as we’re so caught up in our busy day-to- day lives? Now, I’m not saying I have the gift of tapping into otherworldly things … but I once met a woman who did. A few years ago I went with my daughter to see a psychic. It wasn’t the first time I’d done this over the years, but this experience topped them all and certainly gave me something to think about. We sat across a table from each other, in the very ordinary sitting room of a very ordinary house, while the psychic, Maureen shuffled a Tarot pack and then I chose a selection of cards. She turned the cards and said random things that could really apply to anybody, then she started telling me the names of members of my family.

By this stage I was trying not to let my mouth gape open, just nodded here and there, not really trusting my voice. Maureen also told me that I had some lovely vegetables growing in my garden and commented on which ones. She said, ‘Ooh, you’ve some lovely tomatoes and cucumbers there.’ I managed to nod. Then she said, ‘You like to feel the earth under your bare feet while tending them too, don’t you?’ I often did walk around the garden without shoes, still do. As you can imagine, I was gobsmacked to say the least. I asked her how she knew – she said, ‘Well I can see you there in the garden.’ She said it as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world. That really freaked me out I can tell you!

Because of this experience, I was able to create a character in Summer in Tintagel called Morganna, who happens to be a white witch. Maureen wasn’t of course, nor was she remotely anything like her in appearance or personality, but they are very similar in their abilities. I really enjoyed incorporating a little of what I experienced into the scenes between Morganna and my main character, Rosa.

So, I wonder what you think about all that? If I were you I might find it all hard to swallow, but it happened to me, first hand, so I did swallow it and have wondered how on earth she had the ability to do it ever since. I asked Maureen if she’d always been able to do it and she said yes, from being little. She seemed reluctant to be drawn further though. I would be interested to hear your comments or any similar experiences you might have had!


Many thanks for coming, Amanda. I too find spiritualism fascinating and there is a whole storyline related to it running through my first novel, As If I Were A River.

You can get a copy of Summer in Tintagel here; keep up to date with Amanda’s writing news on her website; and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Year of Indie Debuts: 183 Times A Year by Eva Jordan

Today’s Indie Debut star is Eva Jordan, whose novel 183 Times A Year is about mothers and daughters, a relationship that always has a lot of material to mine! 

Firstly, I’d like to thank the lovely Amanda, fellow Urbane author, for having me on her blog today. Amanda suggested I write a post about the themes discussed in my debut novel.

Write what you know, I was advised. So I did. Inspired by the women in my life including my mother, daughters and close friends, 183 Times A Year is a humorous observation of contemporary family life. Love, loss and friendship weave their way throughout this amusing and sometimes tragic story, however, in the main, 183 Times A Year is a poignant, heartfelt look at the complex and diverse relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter.

Our history books are littered with notable mother­-daughter relationships including Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, Marie Curie and Iréne Joliot­ Curie, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane and Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst to name just a few.

The actress Jamie Lee Curtis said of her mother and fellow actress, Janet Leigh, “My mother was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. There are moments when I remember her beauty, unadorned, unposed, not in some artificial place like a set or a photo call but rather captured outdoors in nature, where she took my breath away. When those moments surface, I miss her the most.”

And to her daughter, Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland said, “Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else.”

Seen from two points of view, 183 Times A Year is narrated through two very different voices, namely Lizzie and Cassie. Lizzie is the exasperated mother of Cassie, Connor and stepdaughter, Maisy, and the frustrated voice of reason to her daughter’s teenage angst. She gets by with good friends, cheap wine and talking to herself—out loud.

Whereas 16-­year­ old Cassie is the Facebook­ing, Tweeting, selfie­ taking, music and mobile phone obsessed teen that hates everything about her life. She longs for the perfect world of Chelsea Divine and her ‘undivorced’ parents—and Joe, the gorgeous boy every girl fancies.

Although I am both a mother and step mother and was therefore able to draw on many of my own experiences, as well as those of friends and family (when Cassie refers to Virginia Woolf as Canary Wharf and the current British Prime Minister as Cameron Diaz, I was actually drawing on fact, not fiction), I also carried out a great deal of research. I discovered (and suddenly remembered) that being a teenager isn’t easy. Nonetheless, being the mother of such isn’t always a bed of roses either.

Whilst most five­-year ­old girls love their mother with an unshakeable conviction, it is often a different story by the time they reach their teens. The once adored mother who barely put a foot wrong is suddenly doing or saying embarrassing things and dumbfounded mothers discover their testing teens often feel criticised or judged by their well-­meaning actions or advice. Throw in step-parents and step-siblings to the mixing pot of today’s divided and extended families and you’re probably in for a bumpy ride.

According to a survey reported by The Telegraph in May 2013 studying the relationship between teenage daughters and their mothers, a teenage girl will, during a year:

  • cry over boys 123 times
  • slam 164 doors
  • have 257 fights with brothers and sisters
  • fall out with their friends 127 times despite spending 274 hours on the phone to them.

Guess what they do 183 times a year!

Teenage daughters often feel torn between wanting to remain close to their mothers and wanting to separate. Fortunately, this wild swing from remoteness to closeness doesn’t last though. Further research suggests that the mother­-daughter relationship is so powerful it affects everything from a woman’s health to her self­ esteem. Dr Christiane Northrup, author of the book Mother­-Daughter Wisdom (Hay House), says: “The mother-daughter relationship is the most powerful bond in the world, for better or for worse. It sets the stage for all other relationships.”

So, although at times the mother-daughter relationship is a road fraught with diverse and complex emotions, it can also be – like many strong, female friendships – very enriching and rewarding. If mum and daughter can hang in there, the relationship comes full circle and usually moves to a different level altogether. Often blossoming into a loving, respectful relationship.

However, if all else fails, remember…it’s not a life, it’s an adventure!


Thanks for coming, Eva.

If you’d like to read 183 Times A Year, the ebook version is currently reduced to £1.99 and is available here.

Or, if you’d like a signed paperback version, or would just like to chat, you can connect with Eva on her website, her Facebook page or follow her on Twitter: @evajordanwriter

Year of Indie Debuts: Skyjacked by Shirley Golden

A big welcome to author, Shirley Golden, who’s debut science fiction novel, Skyjacked, is published today. Congratulations and happy publication day, Shirley! As well as being a debut novelist, Shirley has been a winner in the Retreat West short story and flash fiction competitions more than once and she is a very impressive and versatile writer. I really enjoyed Skyjacked and I never usually read this kind of science fiction, which is actually rather strange as I watch films like it often, and I think Shirley may have converted me to read more of this genre.

Shirley, your cast of characters are all very distinct and very real, how difficult was it for you to create so many different voices at once?

It wasn’t something I was conscious of doing in the first draft. I was very much led by my main character, Corvus, whose voice was strong in my head. Once the interactions began with the other characters, I went whichever way the dialogue took me. I like to allow the first draft to come out in whatever way it will. Originally, I had three perspectives. But then I spent a great deal of time in later edits, swapping viewpoints and trying first or third person, until I decided to alternate between Corvus and Janelle in close third person viewpoint, as they underwent the most change, and I felt their internal monologues were distinct from each other. I honed the other characters’ ‘voices’ as I developed their backstories, and adjusted the dialogue, highlighting individual nuances. It wasn’t easy, and took many months of editing once the initial draft was written, but it’s the part of writing I enjoy the most.

Your main character Corvus is given a great opportunity to change his selfish ways – do you think he’ll make the most of it?

Mm, well, I think he’ll try. He’s nothing if not a trier! But it’ll perhaps be all too easy to slip into old habits. I think intentions to change are often hard to maintain long-term or when placed under pressure. I have written a first draft of a sequel so have a rough plan as to how far he will transform. But that could change quite dramatically over subsequent edits, so even I’m not sure at the moment.

You explore the concept of AI robots having real human emotions and relationships – do you think this is something that could become a reality?

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of consciousness and how it comes into being. I believe that given the right amount of connections and experience, consciousness has the potential to develop in any living creature. It’s therefore not such a leap to imagine it would be possible for entities that mimic organisms capable of consciousness to develop in similar ways. I’m not so certain it would work if parameters are fixed within the systems, but think it’d be feasible if the systems are able to adapt.

For me, a really strong theme emerged of love and understanding being able to cross divides – is this something you set out to explore or did it just emerge in the writing?

I never set out to explore anything at the start of writing fiction! It always begins with ‘voice’ and a character that won’t go away. Once I’ve written the story, I’ll then go back and sometimes strengthen the themes. Although initially they have to emerge from the interactions, rather than consciously forcing things as I try not to become heavy-handed about it. At an individual level, I like to think that Corvus learns to take more responsibility for his actions and, that after everything, Isidore learns to trust in others a little more. However, Janelle has to let go of her ideals and travels an altogether darker path, and this is something she’s going to have to deal with in the future.

What are you working on now?

I’ve been working on a sequel to ‘Skyjacked’, but unfortunately recent ill health has slowed the editing right down. I’m hoping to get back to it very soon.

Thanks, Amanda, for having me across. Your questions really gave me something to think about.


Thanks for coming, Shirley, and giving us an insight into your writing process. I hope you are on mend.

You can get a copy of Skyjacked from the Urbane website or on Amazon; and you can connect with Shirley on Twitter and keep up to date with her writing news on her website.

Year of Indie Debuts: The Hungtingfield Paintress

The latest debut author in the spotlight is fellow Urbane author, Pamela Holmes, whose novel The Huntingfield Paintress is a fictionalised tale of a real person’s life. That person being Mildred Holland, a vicar’s wife living in rural Suffolk in Victorian England. It’s a fascinating account of her fight to do and be what she wants to be in a time when women didn’t really have that much choice.

Was it difficult to write from the point of view from a character that was real – did it inhibit you in any way? What approach did you take to find her voice?

I found out everything I could about Mildred Holland (1813 – 1878) and the times in which she lived. In the British Library, I read about the role of women, parish life, the impact of industrialisation on rural areas and the Gothic revival. A local amateur historian with an interest in the genealogy had commissioned a Holland family tree and let me pore over it. Diaries and accounts of people who had taken a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe like Mildred and Willian did for eight years in their early married life gave me insight into what they may have seen.

I interviewed art historians and restorers about painting techniques in the 1850s as well as scanning architectural magazines from The British Institute of Architecture to understand more about that profession. Completing all this research was ultimately liberating for it gave me the impetus, the structure with which to focus my imagination.  Mildred’s voice emerged from it all. I realised I knew where she came from, what and why she would want to act or might feel in a particular way. So it was not difficult to write from her point of view; I felt I knew her. As for what she looked like, I could find no existing photograph or description of her appearance but I think she was physically magnetic.

What inspired you about Mildred that made you want to tell her story?

I recognised that when Mildred settled in Huntingfield after eight years travelling the Continent with her husband, she was in limb. The opportunities to express herself, to do something for herself were few. She was a vicar’s wife. She could run the home, support her husband, serve tea to guests, administer goodly works to those in need. But that was about it. There were firm expectations about what she should do but, as importantly, what she should not.

The Huntingfield Paintress describes her journey to self-expression. The book shows us that Mildred found a way out of her situation. But to do this she needed her husband’s support and she succeeded for there is evidence that William paid for what she did. He would have come in for criticism, allowing his wife to ‘work’ although the fact that it involved religion provided some degree of acceptance. There would have questions about her morality. None of this stopped Mildred, and realising this convinced me that she was determined and clever woman who was willing and able to manipulate people to achieve her ends. That made her fascinating. An impressive woman who I liked very much but also a woman with foibles and faults.

Where did you find out about her life in Huntingfield and also her travels before she settled there?

The local library was a brilliant source of information about the area, its flora and fauna. As I became more absorbed in the writing, I decided I needed to live in Huntingfield for a time so I rented an old laundry building. I sketched, walked the hills and woods she must have wandered, went to churches and towns she may have visited. I was invited to tea in the Rectory where Mildred lived for over 30 years and drank in the pub (or tavern) which still exists in Huntingfield, where her servants may have gone even if she might not. All this helped me to understand what life may have been like there.

Before the couple settled in the village, they travelled widely. For eight years, they were in various parts of Europe, going as far as Constantinople and across the Mediterranean to Morocco. They would have seen glorious examples of medieval, Gothic and Islamic art and architecture as well as experienced the life, geography, weather and cultures of these different places.

What would it have been like to return to a tiny Suffolk village? What would they have thought of their church, a victim of the Reformation when statues, fabrics and glass showing pictures were all destroyed? Inside it was white-washed, according to an entry in the parish records from 1583, so as to cover up ornamentation. By comparison to the splendours of Venice or Florence was it just a little dull?

What did you enjoy most about writing a novel about a real person?

Mildred was at a crossroads when she settled in Huntingfield. She had had a life-changing experience travelling the Continent and she was now in a place which ostensibly afforded few opportunities to express herself. When I came across her story, I was also at a point in my life when there were choices I could make if I only could find the courage and commitment to do so. My two boys were both at University and though I had a job I enjoyed, I knew I had energy left to do more. Finding out that there was little lot known about this fascinating woman gave me the opportunity to create a version of her life that is based in truth but more importantly, I hope, is psychologically and emotionally convincing.

Will your next novel also be a fictionalised account of a real person’s life?

I’ve started writing my second novel. My ideas about it change as I write. It is not a fictionalised account of a real person’s life but, of course, draws on experiences of others as well as some of my own. I think all novels do this at some level; we watch how others cope, respond and are driven by events, circumstances, their past lives and their dreams. It is a wonderful and painful process to write, at least for me. I find this quote from Emile Zola of comfort: ‘From the moment I start a new novel, life’s just one endless torture…..’ If one of the world’s most talented, famous and erudite writers find the process hard, is it any wonder that I do?


Thanks very much, Pamela, for this insight into the creating of The Huntingfield Paintress. You can get a copy on the Urbane website, in bookshops and on Amazon.

Year of Indie Debuts: Stone Seeds

It’s great to have fellow Urbane author, Jo Ely, here today talking about her debut teen/YA novel, Stone Seeds. I loved it and devoured it in just a couple of days. It’s one of my favourite genres – speculative/dystopian – and I was completely transported to Barvarnica where the story takes place.

Jo, the world you’ve created in Stone Seeds is sinister and alien but also shines a light on the problems we have today in our own world with politicians and the media promoting hatred of other cultures. Can you tell us whether this was what you set out to explore with this book or did these themes just emerge in the writing?

I started writing Stone Seeds well before the exodus of refugees, people running from ISIS, started filling our screens. I think it’s maybe the greatest moral test of our times but it came after I’d finished writing the novel. Like a lot of people I’ve been pretty disgusted by the backlash of xenophobia and racism, from some quarters, toward human beings who are fleeing for their lives. Some of the language used about refugees has been dehumanising, and that should be a massive red flag for us. But then again, there are a lot of people out there who really do care, and who’ve put that care into action or resources, and that has to make you feel there is hope.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in issues around who gets to speak, who has no voice or isn’t being heard and why. You can’t boil down a novel to pat solutions or a political viewpoint or it’s just moralising and probably a pretty boring story, so the question for the writer becomes, who do you give a voice to? For instance, do you take the perspective of the adult holding the child’s hand or the child looking up at a world full of Giants? Does your novel look through the eyes of the corseted upper class woman or the servant girl tying her shoe? Are you taking the perspective of the bomber or of the person being bombed? Those kinds of choices will make an essential difference to the story you are going to tell.

Jean Rhys took a beloved story, Jane Eyre, and retold it through the eyes of the madwoman in the attic, in her novel Wide Sargasso Sea. Having seen Rochester’s first wife as the barrier to the real love story in Bronte’s work, we were now on the ‘madwoman’s’ side in Rhys’ novel, stalking the corridors and setting the curtains alight.

Rhys stretched our empathy until it could encompass the silenced woman in the attic, the one who was just out of sight.

Although hatred and division are strong themes in the book, what really shone through for me was love and empathy and that if we all just hold onto these then there is hope. Do you really believe this is true?

Well, maybe I have to believe it. Although of course some people simply need to be stopped and maybe we should reserve our love and empathy for their victims. I am glad that is what you took from Stone Seeds and that probably says a lot about you and who you are as a person and yes, I think the novel is capable of holding that interpretation.

You might see Mamma Zeina’s attempts to build a gathering, an underground resistance movement, as stemming from an innate desire for human connection, for friendship, trust. But then again another reader might view it as the pragmatism of a battle hardened general whose warriors have all been decimated. What can she do? What options are left?

It’s very hard to kill an idea. You can’t lock it up or make it a slave. And communication, human connections, are like the soil it can grow in. Maybe Mamma Zeina is just being strategic. But then there is Jengi, who is cynical and fuelled by anger. He’s certainly no pacifist anyway. So there are the competing viewpoints of the characters themselves.

I’m not telling anyone what to think.

Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

I think the setting for Bavarnica, the OneFolks’ village, the Killing Forest and the Edge Farms, was influenced by my travels. Firstly by flashes of memory from an early childhood spent in Botswana. I was still very young when the family left to come back to Britain for good, so it’s very possible, in fact likely, that these are not real memories at all, but images implanted by my parents’ bedtime stories.

We now know that ‘memories’ which come about in this way can feel extraordinarily real and they certainly do for me. A tree full of monkeys, silent and then bursting into chatter. Some kind of worm or baby snake wrapped around the end of a stick which my older brother seemed to pull out of the ground, that can’t possibly have been real. Can it? And yet I can see it in my mind’s eye, clear as day.

And then a loud and colourful market place. Baked earth. Black, flattened trees and red skies. Who knows what’s a real memory and what was my imagination, or perhaps a dream. As I said, I was very young in Botswana.

Travelling as an adult certainly helped me create my settings for Stone Seeds. I once found myself jet lagged and disoriented driving down street after street in Naples, Florida, where the super-rich keep their holiday homes, gardens with room for helipads and be-flagged balconies Mussolini would have been proud to own. But, like a classic horror movie trope, I couldn’t find my way out and there wasn’t a single person in sight. Not even a dog. I kept expecting something peculiar to happen, a lightning strike or an old woman to appear with a dire warning. The idea for the OneFolks’ village popped into my head pretty much fully formed.

On the same trip, days later, I travelled down a shaky wooden walkway into the heart of the everglades in wet season, when everything’s thrumming with life. Sound travels in a cypress forest, you hear every snap, crunch and slide for miles around. There were alligators under the rickety walkway, heaving and rolling in the dirty shallow water, just a few feet away from me. That experience provided the basis for the Killing Forest.

And then there are the images I’ve tried to get out of my head, but can’t. I travelled a lot in South America in my early twenties, I can still recall looking out of a chipped bus window in Peru and seeing a boy of about three years old cleaning a grown man’s shoe for pennies.

Or the street child in Brazil who I didn’t realise had been hiding behind me from the police until the coast was clear and he shot out, he ran for it. He can’t have been more than seven, eight years old. If I close my eyes twenty years later I can still see that child fleeing.

Brazilian street children had good reason to fear the police in that place at that time. I also remember crouching in the ruins of an ancient home at the top of Macchu Picchu in Peru, watching the light filter in through the slotted window, making patterns on the floor. Wondering who’d sat there before me. What they’d felt. And later on the local children racing helter skelter down the side of the mountain, terrifying to watch them but brilliantly, expertly, never losing their footing. Following our rusty old bus as it dipped in the holes and clattered along. These children are all wrapped up in Zettie, the youngest character in Stone Seeds.

I found the inspiration for other characters on my travels too. Mamma Zeina appeared a few times. Once I saw her in a square, a Romanian gypsy woman in traditional dress, full skirts and headscarf. She was selling balloons. I was wondering what her life must be like, without the possibility of citizenship, unable to put her children in school or secure a regular job because of the stigma attached to her people, and I must have been staring because at that moment she turned and gave me a shrewd and very direct stare. Eye to eye. At that moment my daughter let go of her balloon and burst into tears, ensuring the moment was permanently scored in my mind.

I met Mamma Zeina again in Florence. My husband’s mother is a Florentine and I’ve spent some time there. Piazza Signoria was uncharacteristically empty, the shutters of all the cafes were pulled down. We soon saw why: a large group of young, male German football fans came around the corner. They were chanting and acting in an arrogant, entitled way.

Not dangerous exactly but the atmosphere was a bit rough, they’d been drinking. Taking over the street with their sheer size and sound. I hurried away with my two small children, bumping the pram over the cobbles, but then I turned and saw this old woman in an ancient fur coat and wobbly lipstick. She just sat down on a bench and pulled out a cigarette. Sat there smoking, watching. I caught her husband’s eye but it seems he couldn’t convince her to move. I remember her unnerving gaze at the young men. Flash of steel.

It was only when I got home that it occurred to me that this elegant elderly lady would have been a young woman last time such a large group of German men were occupying that square. I wondered what the old woman had felt when she saw them. What she remembered. It was deeply satisfying to me that she’d refused to move. She wasn’t going to scuttle away from her own square, in her own town. Not today.

After that I read a lot about the role of women in the Italian resistance. Anything I could get my hands on. I had coffee with a really lovely, fiercely intelligent, older Jewish-Italian woman who’d been a small child during the Nazi era. She’d been spirited across the border by nuns and was brought home to Florence when the war was over. Everyone in her nuclear family had made it. That small girl had passed through so many safe pairs of hands on her way out of the country, one false move and … But nobody had dropped that child. And here she was, talking to me.

That realisation, that penny dropping, electrified me. The idea for Mamma Zeina’s underground Sinta network percolated in my mind for more than ten years after that meeting. Long before I ever put pen to paper to write Stone Seeds.

Is there going to be a follow up to Stone Seeds? It definitely left me wanting more and felt like it wasn’t the end of these characters’ stories. 

Well you’ll know what it’s like, having just finished your own novel. It is very hard to get your characters out of your head, you’ve spent so long in their company. I must have come up with about ten different scenarios for Bavarnica and for my characters. There’s another equally strong part of me, though, that would quite like to leave the reader with a conundrum and let their own imagination go to work on the story. I like reading books which finish with a question, or end with a new beginning.

What are you working on now?

Well my plan was never to write exclusively speculative fiction. But plans are one thing and the imagination doesn’t necessarily do what it’s told. Since finishing Stone Seeds I’ve been experimenting and trying different things out. I love reading short stories in contemporary settings but one thing I’ve found when I try to write them now, something strange always seems to happen.

A person will turn into a lamp post and then have to deal with the emotional fallout from that. The scenery will shift and alter unaccountably. I probably have to accept at this point that writing speculative fiction has done something unalterable to my brain. There’s no going back now.


Thanks so much for your time, Jo. I enjoyed the interview almost as much as the book! 

If you’d like to win a free copy Stone Seeds then leave a comment below telling us why before 10pm (BST) on 7th April 2016. The random number generator will pick a winner and I’ll announce it here shortly after that.

If you’d just like to buy a copy now, then it’s available as paperback and ebook on Amazon, Waterstones and on the Urbane website.

You can connect with Jo on Twitter and hear her reading from Stone Seeds at Vanguard Readings in London on 16th June 2016.

Author Interview: Jackie Buxton on Tea and Chemo

A big welcome to Jackie Buxton today, who’s been talking very frankly to me about her memoir, Tea and Chemo, which was recently published by Urbane Publications, and life after a cancer diagnosis.

This tale of Jackie’s treatment for breast cancer is a great read and all of the royalties are being donated to the three breast cancer charities that helped her, and many other women like her, during treatment. So please buy a copy! You can get one here direct from the publisher, or here through Amazon.

Jackie, despite the subject matter, your memoir about undergoing treatment for breast cancer is funny, uplifting and inspiring yet you talk in it about ‘The Fear’ that grips you sometimes. How do you keep yourself focused on the positives when the fear shows up?

I’m so pleased you saw all that in Tea & Chemo, Amanda. I wanted the book to be informative but positive so it’s wonderful to hear it described in this way. It seems to me that The Fear affects all cancer patients to a greater or lesser degree after treatment. It’s a sort of disbelief that the body which was caught napping when cancer called the first time, won’t get caught out again.

When you’re having active treatment, you’re invincible. Those operations to cut away the cancer are major surgery. If chemo makes you feel that bad, pah! pity those cancer cells. And then there’s radiotherapy, don’t be fooled by the pain free element and speed of implementation, that’s a big dose of radiation in your body. And then it all stops and suddenly, you, the ex-cancer patient, can feel very small and insipid in the fight to keep cancer from calling again.

Also, once active treatment finishes, aside from check-ups and ongoing medication, you are sent away to live your life – but with the voice of the medical profession constantly tapping in your ear: Be vigilant! Check for new lumps and bumps and get aches and pains checked out. So, as an ex-patient, on the one hand you’re trying to be rational and finally push the cancer thing to the back of your mind, on the other, you know that you are the first line of defence in spotting a new cancer forming or secondaries growing. It’s hard not to over-analyse and to let The Fear become all-consuming.

So, how do I cope with The Fear? That’s a great question! I think I batter it into submission with a hefty dose of logic, distraction and action. There are some questions to which nobody knows the answers, such as whether the cancer will come back, if secondaries are silently forming and for me, without any history of breast cancer in my family, whether my genetic make-up is nonetheless of the cancer forming kind and worse, have I developed a dodgy gene which I will pass on to my children?

The best I can do when these questions rear their awful heads, is to preach to myself what the brilliant medical profession has taught me. Cancer is the result of a perfect storm – all of the body’s defence systems have to be found wanting at the same time for a ‘bad cell’ to become cancerous, mutate and conquer. And I remind myself that for now, and that’s all we can deal with, I am one of the lucky ones because my treatment aim was cure without secondaries and other complications.

This generally works.

Otherwise, manic busy-ness is wonderful for distracting me. It’s really hard to dwell on the unknown when having fun with friends and family, when children need to be picked up simultaneously from opposite ends of Yorkshire, the spreadsheets don’t tally, a class starts in twenty minutes and my next deadline is one hundred pages and a week away. I am certainly someone who is happiest and most carefree when they are busy.

Sometimes The Fear might need addressing and so I take action forthwith. I used to be a little slap happy with my health. I’d have a headache for a few days before being bothered to walk to the medical box to find a couple of paracetamol, would deprive myself of sleep to meet a deadline and would make an appointment for my children to see the doctor when the request had barely left their lips whereas weeks would go by before I picked up the phone for myself.

Now I’m different. If there’s any chance of a sluggish, pit of the stomach sort of fear staying around, then I drop what I’m doing and get on and book an appointment with my long suffering GP practice. I am lucky because all the doctors there, without exception, are very, very understanding of the fact that when you’ve had cancer, every head ache means it’s gone to the brain. Every stomach ache means it’s made its way into your ovaries. Stiff legs and achy joints you say? No matter that you’ve just run twenty miles, swum the channel and ridden a bike (upside down) this can only be a sign of one thing: bone mets (secondary breast cancer in the bones). I joke but it feels seriously real at the time.

And you know, time helps. It’s two years on from diagnosis and I now recognise that I can get a cold, like anyone else, and it’s just a cold.

You said you wrote this book as you’d wanted to find one like it when you were diagnosed – what do you hope it will bring to other women who have to undergo treatment for breast cancer?

When I was diagnosed with cancer in December 2013, I found that there was a wealth of really well-written information about a cancer diagnosis and its treatments. However, I struggled to find much about how it would feel; what it was really like to go through treatment for cancer – emotionally, as well as physically. I also never read anywhere that it might be OK, bearable, even almost pleasant.

The morning spent in hospital being administered my chemo, for example, was thoroughly pleasant. It didn’t hurt, the nursing staff as well as being fantastically efficient and reassuring were also really good fun and while I was unable to go to work put on the washing, cook dinner… I read books, chatted, drank tea and ate sandwiches which other people had made for me. It would be churlish of me to pretend that the time wasn’t fun and hugely relaxing – and that was something I didn’t find written down anywhere.

I hope Tea & Chemo emphasises the lighter side of cancer and its treatments. I hope my experience and learning along the cancer road will help inform people further back in the process than me, but also leave them with the lasting impression that, if we’re lucky, the experience isn’t all bad.

If there was one thing you could go back and tell yourself in the week before your diagnosis what would it be?

Please can I have two?

  • You’re going to be one of the lucky ones: your treatment aim is cure.
  • You will survive the artery bleed after the mastectomy operation.

Ummm, three? Don’t try to keep your freelance work going during treatment. Enjoy the time when you feel well, and indulge yourself when you don’t! You’ll be back working full time soon enough.

Aside from your memoir, you also have your debut novel coming out in June 2016 – can you tell us a bit about that?

Glass Houses is about two women who make stupid mistakes and the massive ramifications not just for their lives but for those close to them. It’s about people in glass houses not throwing stones. It’s also about how if we smash up our lives, however hard we try to stick them back together again, they will never look the same as they did before. And maybe, just maybe this might not be such a bad thing.

Glass Houses is contemporary fiction so it’s a very different read to Tea & Chemo but I hope that there’s a similarity in that it tackles dark themes with a light touch.


Thanks so much for your time and honesty, Jackie. I look forward to reading your novel. Glass Houses will be published by Urbane Publications on June 9th 2016 and is available to pre-order from Amazon.