I caught up with Jessica Jones to talk about her new book The Elegant Art of Falling Apart, published on 11th July by Unbound, she tells us in her own words what the book is about!
The Elegant Art of Falling Apart is a book about coping, and not coping, in a crisis. Ostensibly it is my story of going through breast cancer but in truth, the cancer is just the inciting incident. It is really a story about good friends and a bad boyfriend and learning how to accept whatever is happening in your life. It's a very funny read yet sad at the same time, so I am told.
You moved to London to pursue music and fashion, so where did writing fit in in all of that?
I spent decades falling in and out of jobs and careers. Some of them were quite glamorous and, from the outside, desirable but for years I didn't have the courage to do what I wanted to do. I didn't start writing until I was in my early forties, so I guess I am a testament to a philosophy that I touch on in The Elegant Art of Falling Apart: never give up, follow your dreams until you die.
Please tell us about when you first found out you had breast cancer?
Often in life bad news is accompanied by a sort of buried I knew it feeling. There are hints, maybe they are physical, maybe just a vague uneasiness or fear, even clues in dreams. But my diagnosis with breast cancer was completely unexpected. When the doctor told me what she was seeing on the ultrasound scan, I honestly looked around to see if she was talking to someone else. After that everything began to move very quickly. I had a biopsy that same afternoon, followed by a battery of further scans and tests. Within a week I was in hospital having surgery. I am rather grateful for that. It meant that I didn't have a lot of time to worry and get anxious.
The Times said that the blog was one of 40 that really count, so how did this make you feel?
Incredibly proud. I want Chemo Chic to become a resource for anyone who is affected by cancer, now or in the past, whether directly experiencing cancer, or indirectly through supporting a loved one. And let's face it, these days that includes just about everybody. The Chemo Chic Project has moved on from being about me and is now a place where you can share your story - or style tips or recipes or beauty tricks! It's a way to help others and give something back, without having to run a marathon or climb a mountain.
At what point did you decide to blog about what was happening to you?
From the very beginning my friends urged me to write a blog? Who on earth would want to read a blog about somebody having cancer? I thought, not me. One day, en-route to the hospital and bedecked with headscarf, chandelier earrings, red lipstick and dark glasses, I stepped into my friend Jamie’s car to be greeted with his remark, ‘You’re really working the chemo chic look today girl.’ Thus, a blog was born. Writing about cancer struck me as tedious and depressing, writing about cancer and fashion on the other hand, sounded utterly bonkers. I had to do it!
All the way through my illness I wrote and wrote. On occasions it was difficult to describe the ghastliness of the chemo, the boringness of the radiotherapy and the fear and desolation that I sometimes experienced. Other times it was pure joy to write about the silliness of encounters with my doctors, the kindness of the nurses and the love that landed on me in unexpected ways from all of my friends. No matter what I wrote about, after writing I always felt better.
In what ways is fighting love harder than fighting cancer?
I'm not sure that I'm in accord with the notion of 'fighting' love, or even with the idea of fighting cancer. The Elegant Art of Falling Apart is about trying to survive two major life crises coming hard on the heels of one another. The first was cancer, closely followed by my relationship breaking up. This is often the pattern in life, one trauma begets another - you lose your job, then lose your house or get divorced. What I find worthy of comment is that when going through the big, somewhat glamorous crises, like death, disaster or life threatening illness, we receive a great deal of sympathy and support. Yet when we experience more mundane but equally devastating events like divorce or losing a job, we are expected somehow to take them on the chin. It seems to me that our culture has a far too high tolerance of pain and isolation and an underlying attitude that trauma can only be addressed by being tough and fighting. Perhaps we do too much fighting and not enough accepting?
Tell us about how you got involved with Unbound.
As I wrote the book, it was plain to me that the traditional publishing industry was falling into in a state of paralysis and collapse. So when I met John Mitchinson and learned about the new publishing business that he and his partners were developing at Unbound I was in equal measure intrigued and excited. The crowd-funded model is very new. It is uncertain in its outcome and also, as I have since discovered a lot of work for the author. I had to ask myself, do you want to be clinging to the deck of a sinking ship or take a risk and be in the vanguard of something new? Given the positive nature of all the things that I talk about in The Elegant Art of Falling Apart I did not debate with myself for long. To my mind, signing with Unbound was the beginning of life's next adventure.
What has been the highlight of this experience for you?
The spontaneous things that readers have said on Facebook have moved and delighted me. I can hardly believe that, after reading the book, people take the time to search out The Elegant Art of Falling Apart's Facebook page and then write about how it affected them. Getting great reviews in the press is gratifying, of course, but direct feedback from readers was something that I had never expected. Every time the book receives a comment it makes my day.
What is next for you?
My mission now is to spread the word about The Chemo Chic Project. Apart from that I want to live and love every day that I have - and write my next book! Everything else is a bonus.
Jessica Jones' funny and moving memoir The Elegant Art of Falling Apart is published by Unbound in hardback (£20), paperback (£9.99) and eBook (£5.99). Follow her on Twitter @itsJessyJones.
Amazon link (paperback): http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Elegant-Art-Falling-Apart/dp/1908717246/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1372920943&sr=8-1
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Elegant-Falling-Apart-ebook/dp/B00DUJA6SO/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_t_1_0PTD
Unbound (hardback): http://unbound.co.uk/books/the-elegant-art-of-falling-apart
The Chemo Chic Project: http://chemochic.org