1. STOP AND CATCH YOUR BREATH: when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, I thought that was it: game over. In the following months, I made all sorts of wild promises, most of which I didn't keep. One I did stick to was this: start writing again. It took almost 5 years for that promise to come to fruition, but when it did what came pouring out of me was not a cancer memoir but 'Frost Hollow Hall'. I'm glad I waited. Gladder still to have had that luxury.
  2. SEIZE THE DAY: which rather contradicts what I've just said, but certain things aren't worth waiting for. After cancer, my 'cautious self' took a backseat. Things I might've said 'oooh no' about, I suddenly thought 'well, why not?' In 2009, in a moment of impulse, I enrolled on an MA in Writing For Young People at Bath Spa Uni. Many of the others on the course had years of writing experience; I'd only been at it again for a couple of months. But as things turned out, joining that course it was probably the best decision of my writing career.
  3. BATTLE SCARS: cancer surgery isn't kind. It cuts you open, tears you apart, and puts you back together, though in my case it felt like the pieces didn't fit anymore. For a while, I tried very hard to be my old self again: the successful teacher, the Head of English, the woman desperate to be a mum. Accepting that I'd changed was difficult. Eye-opening. Yet it took me much closer to my dream of being a writer.
  4. DON'T FEAR CHANGE: most of my professional life had been in teaching. I assumed I'd be doing it till pension day, so as the writing took off and suddenly there wasn't enough time in the day for marking, lesson planning, editing, proofreading, I knew something had to give. Leaving teaching to be a full-time writer meant walking out on a job with a decent, regular income, sick pay, holiday pay, a pension. But what I have now is the freedom to do what I want, when I want to do it. At 46 years of age my life isn't governed by a bell! I can eat, drink, nap, go to the loo WHENEVER I CHOOSE! I don't regret the change for an instant.
  5. BRAVERY COMES IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES: I don't like flying, injections, dentists, birds- especially dead ones. You could say I'm a bit of a wimp. Getting that cancer diagnosis was one of the most frightening things I've ever experienced. So too is having your book reviewed by someone who isn't your mum. What absolutely amazed me - and still does- is that, in both instances, I didn't go into meltdown. Somehow, somewhere, I found the courage to cope!
  6. THERE'S NO 'I' IN TEAM (OR IN SUPERHERO): which leads me to my next point: people. Wonderful, supportive, there-for-you people. I didn't get through cancer on my own. Nor did I get to be published without the help and wisdom of others. Let people help you. Ask for help. Kicking cancer's ass doesn't make you superhuman.
  7. I REALLY LIKE AVOCADOES: which, yes, are nutritious, but when downed with soured cream and tortilla chips on a regular basis… well, let's just say sitting on your backside writing doesn't use energy like teaching did.
  8. CANCER ISN'T MY ONLY STORY: I used to avoid Facebook groups and school reunions, fearing my one big life achievement was growing a 7cm tumour. Writing's given something back to me that cancer took away. This summer my fifth book for Faber, 'Strange Star', is published. Nowadays, surviving cancer is not my only story.
  9. GROW WITH WHAT YOU KNOW: though I left teaching it's still in my blood. 'Strange Star' is based around the story of how 'Frankenstein' was created, one infamous night in 1816 at the Villa Diodati. Writing it enabled me to revisit one of my favourite classic texts- both from a teaching perspective and as a great admirer of Mary Shelley.
  10. WHAT WILL SURVIVE OF US IS LOVE: to steal Philip Larkin's words here, I don't have any children to live on after me- chemo saw to that. What I do have are books. A book isn't a child, I realise that, though I've heard many female writers make the comparison, and I can understand why. It's something I've created. Something that bears my name. Something that was made with love.

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