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 These days unpublished books aren’t even manuscripts, they’re simply holes in cyberspace somewhere which only the writer knows how to find.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 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.