So today feels like the day to explain how I came to write her story – and why, hand on heart, I worried for quite a long time if I should.
I’m a writer who believes when they say “write about what you know”, they actually mean “write about what you understand”…and unfortunately I understand about loss. I lost my mother to cancer when I was 17 and all my life as a journalist I have felt huge compassion for and empathy with people whose stories I have covered… involving loss.
But it’s a tough subject – right? Maybe not one for fiction? Maybe too personal as a theme in my case? I certainly wouldn’t want to trespass on my family’s privacy. I wouldn’t use any of the facts of my life. I wouldn’t write a memoir. So maybe best left alone…even as a theme, Teresa. Too sad?
I wrote instead about lots of other things successfully for a long time – as a journalist first, then as a columnist and selling lots of short stories to leading magazines. I wrote a few novels – getting near misses with major publishers and lots of rejection letters which tantalisingly said “Teresa writes so beautifully “ and “Teresa will definitely make it as a novelist”.
And then as a TV presenter for the BBC ( I presented Spotlight in Devon for 15 years) I was asked to start a Race for Life in Plymouth to raise money for Cancer Research and there were all these women with a single word pinned to their back. “Mum”. It upset me deeply and yet it comforted me at the same time. All of us in the same boat on this same rocky sea. And it was the moment I felt that maybe, as a writer, I had something to say…That maybe I wanted to shine a light on this theme after all.
I decided that - yes; I would consider using the emotional landscape of my life for a novel. Not the facts of my own experience obviously. Just the theme. So where on earth would I get a fictional story strong enough to carry something I and so many other people felt so strongly about?
And then two things came together through serendipity to gift me the idea for Recipes for Melissa.
First I had a dream about my mother. I hadn’t seen her for decades when I had this dream – but suddenly there she was, all smiles, at the reception desk of a sports centre while I was watching my son take a swimming lesson through the viewing window. It was a very vivid dream. It was honestly as if I had seen her that morning. “We’re over here” I said – waving her to my seat. Completely calm.
We sat and nattered about my two boys (who, of course, she has never met in real life). She gave me lots of tips and advice. She laughed with me about the ups and downs of motherhood…and then suddenly she sort of just drifted off.
When I woke up after that dream, I was overwhelmed. So grateful for the sense of being near her again. For I suddenly realised what exactly it was I missed about going through my adult life without a mother….and that was knowing her as a woman myself. Talking woman to woman. Learning from her about being a mother myself.
Then, while looking for a story for my next novel, I was in my kitchen skimming through recipe books. I took down a lovely memento book made by a nanny who looked after my elder son when he was tiny while I was working in television. It was a book of photos of him cooking – alongside sweet recipes we liked to make with him.
And suddenly that author thing happened – PING!
What if….I stared to think. What if; what if…
What if there were a mother who has to leave her daughter….and wants to find a way to talk to that daughter “woman to woman” across time? Yes, Teresa. What if there were a mother and daughter sadly separated who could be reconnected …woman to woman? What if the mother used a journal to do that? To say a belated goodbye. A journal of recipes… But – no, Teresa. Not just recipes handed down through the family but letters and photographs and advice …and secrets too.
It was Stephen King who advised that when you suddenly get an idea you feel passionately about, you should write the novel very quickly.
I did! I wrote in a complete fury in a way I have never written before ( there are earlier blogs explaining all this). The house was a tip. The family had no clean clothes. Suddenly it was pizza not home-made lasagne. I wrote day and night. I gave myself arm ache…
But once Melissa and her mother Eleanor stepping into my writing room, it was as if this was the novel I was always meant to write…Not my story. Not the facts of my story. But a fictional story I do understand.
A story about love and loss…but most important an ultimately uplifting story about recovery. About learning that when you lose someone you love with all your heart, you eventually learn that it is the very love you miss… that will heal you.
I am so hoping that people like this story. I am very nervous. I am excited. I am also very proud.
It is not a deliberately sentimental story, I hope…but it is an emotionally strong story, which is a different thing entirely. I hope it will move people and I hope it will make anyone who has ever lost someone they love very much…feel understood and reassured. That you can and you will get past it.
I submitted the novel to agents last summer. Everything went mad! I ended up choosing between five offers. My lovely agent then took the novel to the Frankfurt book fair where it was auctioned between seven German publishers.
So far it has sold in five languages….
Today my UK publisher Bookouture has revealed their cover. Their interpretation of “my Melissa” running through a field with the sunlight catching her.
As I said at the start. I keep having to pinch myself...
- The novel is out officially on June 5th but you can pre-order RECIPES FOR MELISSA now - click HERE or on the cover above.