When Catherine emailed me and said ‘we need to act fast’ to get my blog onto the RNA website, I felt excited, then immediately panicked because of the deadline. How to distil the year I’ve just had? So I thought, why don’t we print an extract of my acknowledgements from A Year of Second Chances, as these explain my – and my book’s – journey …
Warning: this is a long acknowledgement. If you need to go to the bathroom, go now.
So. This book nearly didn’t happen. Yes, lots of authors say things like that, because they’ve tried, failed, tried again and then they got the break/agent/flashbulb moment etcetera and their book happened. My book nearly didn’t happen because I nearly didn’t come back from a short trip taking my son to the hairdresser on Saturday afternoon. Instead, a red Alpha Romeo drove straight into me on my side of the road and from there my life took a massive de-tour.
Let’s be clear, I’ve also had the agent, no agent, no publisher, eat-a-million-Doritos-in-desperation period as well, only I also embarked upon on a series of fun adventures after my trip in the ambulance. These included collapsed lung, broken sternum, broken ribs, a hilarious little number called a Lisfranc fracture where my left foot was squashed back the wrong way (yes, ouch), a natty epidural, a lung drain and a few superb black and blue bruises across my abdomen and chest, a gash on my head and lip, a ‘frozen shoulder’, not to mention suddenly having the knees of a ninety year old as they’d both met the dashboard at 60mph. There was talk of air ambulances to St George’s in London to wire my ribs into place, if they did not behave and punctured my lung again. Thankfully, they behaved. (My son had a broken collarbone, broken wrist, and broken toe. It was about 3am when I looked up through a hazy mist on the ward – or that could have been the morphine – and my husband appeared, to tell me they were releasing my son. Sheer relief).
I’m obviously making light of this and, for the record, this was in no way a funny event. I have spent the last year recovering, in and out of hospital and physiotherapy to get my body together, and in and out of counselling to get my head together – that’s been less straightforward!
When I came home from hospital I could not walk. I watched some TV as I had limited options. Let’s just say organising a cup of coffee genuinely took me about 50 minutes.
One day I pressed ‘play’ on the remote. On came a Morning TV show. It had been snowing. The presenter said, ‘We’re going round the UK to show you the photos our viewers have sent in of cats in the snow!’
So that was it. I could not sit there on my saggy sofa and watch frozen felines frolic. Instead, I clambered, using my Zimmer frame, to a make-shift desk, one where I could have my foot elevated, lean awkwardly at an angle and start to type. My manuscript needed finishing, it needed polishing, hell, it needed a lot of work. But I did it. About one to two hours a day, so that I could submit it to various digital publishers, seeing as popping into London for any agent or literary meetings dragging a manuscript and Zimmer frame was out of the question.
The day I got a phone call from my lovely (then) editor, Hannah Smith at Aria/Head of Zeus, was a day that I knew it had all been worth it, involving much crying and drinking of champagne.
I also want to thank the RNA’s New Writer Scheme, which my manuscript had been through. I met some great people and my WIP was taken through its paces in the form of their manuscript assessment – and much of the advice I took on board.
(I then go on to thank everybody from the nurses at the hospital, to an Amazon delivery guy, so I’ll spare you that bit!)
I am astounded by how candid you are, in spite of all you went through, you still manage to [have] keep your sense of humour. How come?
If you don’t laugh you’ll cry, isn’t that right? In fact, because I’m (ahem) at a certain age, this affliction is ever-present! But seriously, I think if you are writing about your experiences and you are too earnest, you run the risk of losing your reader. You need to show a bit of light and dark – and there certainly have been some dark times.
That said, it’s amazing what the human spirit can endure. And you really do have to laugh sometimes; here’s an example. When I was recovering, I had a mobility scooter. (It was actually passed down from Paula Radcliffe who used it during her recovery. It was from a friend of a friend of my brother in law’s… so if you’re reading this Paula, thank you!) Anyway, it meant that as I couldn’t walk, and hopping was causing huge stress on my already crushed knee, I could use this three-wheeled device and get around a bit. Trouble was, my three boys would often ‘borrow’ it from me, when I was, say, at my computer, or on the couch, rendering me unable to get anywhere if they then did not return it. They would whizz around the house doing three-point turns and squealing in delight at being able to scooter around the house!
I would have to either holler at them to bring it back, or I would bum-shuffle out of the room (I couldn’t walk) until one of them saw me and asked what on earth I was doing, to huge eye-brow raises from me!
I imagine juggling three boys and your rehabilitation must be demanding. Do you have a set writing routine?
I wrote a blog recently about my writing day. This forced me to analyse my ‘writing day’… which, yes, is me trying to write around the demands of a house, home, and three boys. As one of my writer friends has said of her boys: ‘They seem to think they live at Beck and Call.’ Spot on.
It has been an especially topsy-turvy year. One minute I have been writing, the next at physiotherapy, then fast forward to counselling, then driving on the school run remembering all that counselling and how to cope with drivers who insist on overtaking cyclists and coming over onto my lane (naturally, a bit of a trigger for me), then burning a batch of food as I sit at my computer – a particular gift I have – then a spot of copy editing, then actually doing my physio and then collapsing into bed, scrawling notes about my novel on a notebook. Many threads.
But that is life, isn’t it? A tapestry of the threads you weave in your life. Sometimes that tapestry is plain and at other times it’s a psychedelic mass of colour. Light and shade. Just like a good novel.
So do I have a writing routine? It depends on what stage of the novel writing I am at. I have just submitted my first draft of Book 3 to my editor. My deadline coincided with half term. Let’s just call that week of my life a ‘challenge’. On the Wednesday my middle teen put his head round the door to find me at the computer. Again. ‘Are there any clean pants, Mum?’ he asked.
The answer was no.
I do try to work for a chunk of most days from about 10am to 3pm, and the rest of it is consumed with making food, driving people places and washing pants (!). My youngest son does 12 hours a week swim training, so me and my trusty laptop either set up camp in the local coffee shop or by the training pool.
It has been exhausting this year with everything else I have had to fit in, from my rehabilitation to home life, and I have found myself in tears randomly. I’ve been determined to get back to my previous level of fitness and this is also a journey. And exercise is definitely medication in its own right. I have done the ‘couch to 5K’ program – my physio put me on this to stop me running out the clinic when I was given the all clear and trying to do 5k there and then. It was a case of little and often, and I’ve done it now. In fact, if I can, I want to do another sprint triathlon in September. My husband and I had been planning to do one last year, but the accident put paid to that. We are doing it this year with our eldest son. I had already done one in 2017 with him which was exhilarating, but exhausting. We raised money for Cystic Fibrosis and plan to do this again.
‘A Year of Second Chances’ sounds like a lovely escapism novel. Does writing help you to escape into your own world?
Yes. It both helps to give my day/life/work some focus and put my creative energy into a specific place. It is the biggest thrill in the world to see the result of all the notebooks, the laptop typing, the Post-Its, the scribbles on the back of a receipt in the car park – distilled into a book. And, I might add, it’s a great privilege to create worlds, to take the reader by the hand and lead them through a story you have created.
A Year of Second Chances does take the reader into ‘another world’ but it’s not one just populated with cupcakes and cute heroes (although there are a few of those!); some of life’s gritty issues like debt and the grief of infertility run through it too. But I hope I have balanced it with some lighter moments and allowing the reader a front row seat to watch these three women on stage. I am not sure how other writers do it, but I tend to ‘see’ the scenes in my book in my head. Sometimes, I’ll race ahead and write a scene that I can’t wait to write. I visualise the room, the view, the rain on the windowpane, the fancy-dress party – whatever it is – and I want to get my thoughts down. In Book 3 my heroine stays at a small seaside cottage. I can almost touch it.. I can hear the gulls and the whoosh of the waves as they slide across the loose shingle on the beach…
20 years of journalism has clearly set you in good stead to write novels. Do you miss journalism or is it something you still tamper with?
I do the odd bit of journalism, but my main work now is my novels. When I first started writing fiction, I kept looking over my shoulder as I was writing. ‘I’m making this up!’ I’d squeal in my head. Because, of course, in my old job, I had been trained to check and double check every fact. (On phone to ‘weather expert’: ‘Can I just ask exactly what kind of wet the rain is today?’)
But now, I make up place names, character names, emotions and plot – and weather!
I do miss the banter and being part of a team, which working in a busy magazine office gave me. (And the fun of screaming out crazy headlines when on deadline!). However, I now have a fantastic team behind me in Aria/Head of Zeus and a fabulous editor, Rhea Kurien. Also, being connected on Twitter and Facebook brings the writing world and colleagues to you; and being part of organisations like the RNA mean that you can meet your fellow writers at events and talk shop with them in the way that you can’t with the check-out guy at Sainsbury’s.
Do you think the accident has made you stronger?
Strong. Hmm. Not sure how strong I really am. I am certainly determined. You have to be to be a writer! I have had a gazillion rejections over the years, and a sense of determination and will to keep going – that’s a kind of inner strength every writer needs.
I think strong can mean different things to different people and manifests itself in many ways. Then again, what’s that saying? ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?’ So, I guess, I’m still here after a head-on collision. And, yes, perhaps a bit stronger.
A YEAR OF SECOND CHANCES • KENDRA SMITH
Three women. Three very different lives. One life changing adventure.
Charlie is a single mum unlucky in life. She’s working multiple jobs just to try and put food on the table. She dreams of being able to give her son the life he deserves. So when an opportunity to make a lot of cash comes along, she simply has to take it.
Suzie has always wanted to be a mother. But fate has been cruel and now time is running out. Soon her final frozen egg will be destroyed and her last chance of having a baby will go with it. With her husband resolved to their childless lives, will Suzie take matters into her own hands?
Dawn has hit a midlife crisis. Soon to be fifty she’s trying to inject the fun back into her life. But with an interfering mother in law and judgemental mums at her children’s school it’s proving harder than it looks.
Over the course of a year three lives are about to collide and as they do, friendships blossom and new beginnings emerge.
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About the author
Kendra Smith has been a journalist, wife, mother, aerobics teacher, qualified diver and very bad cake baker. She started her career in Sydney selling advertising space but quickly made the leap to editorial – and went on to work on several women’s magazines in both Sydney and London. With dual Australian-British nationality, she currently lives in Surrey with her husband and three children.
Find Kendra on Twitter, @KendraAuthor https://twitter.com/KendraAuthor
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Book link: https://amzn.to/2Fbpx4P