Five Books and a Cancer Diagnosis

Well,  nobody wants to be diagnosed with cancer. At the very least, it does  rather upset your plans. There are various ways you can react; my attitude has  been, Sod you, cancer, I’m not going gracefully.  You’re there, and I can’t avoid you, but you’re not who I am. The cancer I have has been described as Incurable, but Manageable, and the fact that I’m still here, admittedly running at half-speed,  four years later, seems to bear this out. And it can have some good results. Without the cancer, my last five books probably wouldn’t exist. And thanks to two excellent self-publishing companies, they’re now here and readable.

Two of them I’d already written; these were the first of a projected trilogy on the girls who played a part in the Trojan war, and the first one went through the dispiriting process of being rejected by conventional publishers, despite me being a published author, who’s won prizes. These kind of books don’t sell, said some. Your heroine isn’t feisty enough, said others (I think feisty now means she’d have to dress up as a boy and go around shooting people.) She spends too much time spinning and weaving, said others, as though women in ancient Greece didn’t have to do this. My heroines do their share of this but manage to get out of it wherever possible. If that’s not feisty , then I think feisty isn’t for me.

So I thought I had no choice but to forget about these two books, never mind the third of the trilogy which I had just started to write. These days unpublished books aren’t even manuscripts, they’re simply holes in cyberspace somewhere which only the writer knows how to find. They don’t exist in any real way.  Without you there to press the few buttons that lead to them, they’re nowhere.

That was where the cancer diagnosis came in. My first thoughts were the usual ones, worry for my family, for myself, anxiety about how the treatment was going to be, etc. But pretty soon down the line came the thought of those two books.  And again, my reaction was aggressive and angry rather than ladylike and accepting. Sod you, publishers, I thought. I shall publish them myself.  The excellent Silver Wood Books enabled me to do this, and the impetus of wanting to finish the series gave me an incentive to write the third, despite then being rather knocked out by chemotherapy treatment.  (I hope not being well at the time doesn’t show in the text – I don’t think it does.)The first book, Helen’s Daughter, and the second, The Burning Towers both came out in 2014, and the last, The Silver-Handled Knife in  2015.  They have lovely covers, and I like the look of them as much as anything I’ve had conventionally published. Self-publishing certainly isn’t to be sneered at.


And there was even a bonus – SIlver Wood invited me to do an ebook for a new series they were running, and this, The Beautiful One, the story of Helen of Troy as a girl, turned my trilogy into a quartet. The  chemotherapy had become less aggressive by now but I was pleased to find I was still able to write.

the beautful one cover

The fifth of my post-cancer books was something quite different. In  2011,I’d published a book called A Bracelet of Bright Hair, which was a sort of a journal of my poetry reading over the year and how it had enhanced my life.  It wasn’t the sort of book which fitted into any convenient category, and my agent wouldn’t look at it. Self publishing was the only answer, and Arima books did a lovely job with it. Although it hasn’t sold in huge quantities, it has acquired a loyal following, and people like to buy it as a present, often for those who are ill or bereaved, who can find comfort in poetry.


Well, the peculiar circumstances of my cancer years impelled me to start another such, which I wrote during 2016. This wasn’t a nice year, both politically and personally, yet my overall  mood I hope, was optimistic. It gave a sense of purpose to the year, to write about my daily routines, and the things going on around me, and find poems to suit the day.  The cancer stuff gets mentioned – it has to – but I wanted to show that there can be a lot more in a cancer patient’s life than just having cancer.  And while the world  was in a bad way, I managed to be fairly cheerful throughout – illness can concentrate your mind like this. I call this book Dancing in the Chequered Shade, because that suggested  the contrast of light and darkness which was that year to me.

Again my agent wouldn’t touch it, and self publishing was the only option, and I turned again to Arima. Now the book is in the final stages of preparation – they’ve promised me it will be out by Christmas, and I’ve already had the lovely jacket design.  So while I can’t exactly say thank you, cancer, for making this all possible,  there’s some good to be found in all situations.


8 thoughts on “Five Books and a Cancer Diagnosis”

  1. Hi Francis… a wonderful blog. You are living in the present… not easy to do when you’ve had cancer and had to undergo chemo. So its even more admirable that you are staying with your experience and producing all these books when I’m sure at times your energy levels must be very low. Well done and for telling it how it is. This will be empowering to others who have had so many rejections. Thank you for sharing.

  2. What a moving but also inspirational article. Thank you for your lovely comments about SilverWood. It’s always a pleasure working with you, and publishing ‘The Beautiful One’ with our digital small press SBooks was a bonus. Such a good read. Keep the creativity flowing! XXX

  3. Hi Frances. I’m a great fan of your Trojan trilogy. I may be a little outside your target audience but I love these tales of Trojan girls, all of whom I would describe as very feisty indeed! I recently read ‘The Beautiful One’ and loved that too. And I should say that historical fiction is not normally a favourite genre of mine – but there is something about these characters and settings that speaks to both the adult and the child in me.
    Anyway, it’s very interesting to hear the story behind them, though I’m sorry to hear about your illness, of course. But I love your attitude and am so glad you are continuing to write and bringing out more books. Can’t wait for your newest one. And please, please, could you do a Douglas Adams and extend the Troy trilogy a bit more?

  4. Apart from your writing, Frances, I hugely admire (and sometimes envy) your courage and persistance. Your self-published books are stunning – I must add to my collection – and I have no doubt your words will be read far into the future.

    Like so many published authors, I, too, am heartily sick of the phrases “not feisty enough”, and the (by now) classic one: “Too quiet”, once applied to a story of mine which featured a knife-wielding teenage thug. And I do love the way you’re fighting your cancerous enemy by simply ignoring it and just getting on with your life and your work. Long may that continue.

  5. a bracelet of bright hair has become one of my bedside books. A possibly hazardous location but so far it is a survivor! I look forward to giving it a dancing companion.

  6. Uplifting and positive, Frances and I send my congratulations and love. I’ve gone the self-publishing route too, because my publishers declined a sequel. It’s selling well and is much loved. I’m fed up with waiting months and even years for an answer from my erstwhile publisher: like you, I’m an award-winning author but apparently that don’t butter no parsnips these days!
    Keep up the good work, lovely lady and best wishes for your future.

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