My mother always knew she’d die of cancer – that or a heart attack. She’d been a heavy smoker since she was 18 and I mean heavy. At one stage she was smoking over 60 cigarettes a day.
It was no surprise when, after a bout of pneumonia, doctors found the tell-tale signs on a chest X-ray and diagnosed stage four lung cancer. The surprise was she was already 81 years old and had outlived my father by almost fifteen years.
I raced down from Staffordshire to Hampshire to find her in good spirits. The doctors had told her she had a few weeks left or maybe a couple of months, and she shrugged at the news. “I’ve had a good life. I’m fine about it. I’m ready to go,” she said.
She was ready to depart this life until she found out I was writing a thriller. My mother was a huge reader and although she’d read and enjoyed my comedies to date, especially the early ones where she’d been the inspiration for Amanda Wilson’s partying mother, the thought I was writing a thriller – her favourite genre – made her eyes light up. “Tell me about it,” she said, patting the settee next to her. I did. I was setting the book part in Staffordshire and part in Hampshire where I’d spent many years. Her eyes shone as we discussed the places I mentioned, each bringing back happy memories. ‘Tell me more when you visit next time,’ she said, as she settled down for the night. “I want to read this book of yours. When will it be published?”
“January 2017,” I replied.
‘I’ll try and make it.”
Days turned into weeks. I would travel down to Farnborough by train, go through the book with my mother and we’d reminisce. Each evening, I would stay at a nearby hotel because she didn’t want me to hear her coughing all night, and I would type for several hours, sometimes all night, ideas fresh in my mind from talking to Mum and emotion running high as I worried about her.
Weeks turned to months. “I don’t think I have cancer at all,” she’d say, dressed in her best blouse and lips painted fuchsia pink. “I feel fine.” She seemed well although she was losing weight. I took her out for her 82nd birthday and we drank wine. “I haven’t had wine for months,” she said, with glee. Back home she insisted I read some of the draft to the book. I never normally read my drafts to anyone but I did. “I like Robyn Carter,” she said. “She has guts. She’s a good character.”
In brief, my mother became my supporter for what was to become LITTLE GIRL LOST. She listened to each idea, chapter, and characterisation and praised or suggested alterations.
The month I was due to submit the script – my first ever thriller, I was working flat out day and night. Travelling to and from Farnborough and lack of sleep was taking its toll on my own health. Anxiety at what was to come, ate at me. Mum, however, was in good form, determined she was going to Cyprus in September to visit friends as she did every year, and was trying to get clearance from the doctor to fly.
The first week of August she wasn’t too well. She sounded tired and vague. I said I’d catch a train and visit her. ‘No. Finish that book. I want to read it,’ she said. ‘I’m fine.’
I went anyway and it was clear she wouldn’t be able to go to Cyprus. She’d taken a turn for the worst. She was glassy-eyed as I talked to her and not really listening. When I stood to leave, with promises I’d be down again the following week. She shook her head. ‘No. Don’t come down. I’m too tired for visitors. I want to read your book. It sounds wonderful. Finish it.’
By now, the book was behind schedule and I’d missed my deadline. I had to get it to my editor. I typed well into each night, changing, rewriting, remembering what Mum and I had talked about. Fuelled by medication and emotion, I poured my heart and soul into every word.
August 23rd 2016, at 4.30 p.m. I pressed the send button. My manuscript had gone. I booked a ticket to travel to Farnborough for that weekend. Fifteen minutes later I received a call to say my mother had just passed away.
It seems too great a coincidence to me that she hung on until the very day LITTLE GIRL LOST was submitted. Not even the same day but only a quarter of an hour after I pressed the send button. Maybe I read too much into it all, but I see my mother as the book’s good luck charm. It was the book that made me a name. It was the book that soared up the Amazon charts and brought me success and it is the book that will forever be the book I wrote for my mother.
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LITTLE GIRL LOST became the #2 best-selling book on Amazon UK charts #9 best audiobook, a top ten best-seller in Pocket Shop bookshops, and was a top 150 best-seller in USA Today charts.