If you’d told me, a handful of years ago, that I’d be sitting here, looking back on the year in which my debut novel was published, I’d have imagined that it was the best year of my life. It took me thirty-eight years to get there, after all. But I wouldn’t have known, would I, about the heartache that came alongside that accomplishment. I wouldn’t have known that my sister wasn’t there at my book launch party, raising a glass to my success.
2018 was an ok year. It wasn’t a great year, but I’m pretty sure I can’t have those, now. And I’m getting used to that. Every year, all the times that should be wonderful are so bound up with sadness. The children’s birthdays, Christmas, long Bank Holiday weekends. Because when we left London to be here in Leicestershire with my sister and her family, I imagined that we would spend all of those times together. And often we do, but the fact that Rachel cannot fully participate in them means they are slightly spoiled before they get started.
Having said that, seeing my debut novel go out into the world was extraordinary. We set Missing Pieces on its way with a party in a pub in Soho, and it’s gone on to do better than I think any of us expected. At one point, it reached number 41 in the Kindle chart, and it had an Amazon bestseller flag. And now, my second novel, Nobody’s Wife, is almost ready. All being well, we’ll be sending that one out at the end of March.
For the first time in a while, I haven’t had any surgery this year. But it’s looking likely that I will be back in the operating theatre in 2019. It’s been almost two years since my double mastectomy, and I think that’s long enough to know that I will never learn to live with my implants. So I’ve asked to go on the waiting list for DIEP surgery, which is the reconstruction I wanted to have all along (but couldn’t, because of my recent pregnancy). The waiting list is a year long, so towards the end of 2019 I should have a twelve-hour operation in which I’ll be cut from hip to hip and surgeons will attach the blood vessels from my tummy tissue to those in my chest.
To that end, I went to hospital this afternoon for a CT scan. I had to fill in a form and one of the questions was whether I’d had a CT scan before. I had no idea, and that was a stark reminder of how my life has changed. Before 2016, I’d only been to hospital for pregnancy-related stuff, and to give birth to Joseph. As I changed into a gown, I started to question myself. This surgery isn’t a necessity, now. It’s mostly cosmetic. I’m voluntarily going back into that clinical, pain-filled world. But as one breast care nurse said to me, I might have another forty or so years ahead of me, and that’s a long time to hate the way I look. To not be able to look at my body in the mirror.
2018 was the year that Elodie turned two and Joseph turned five. The year Joseph started school. The year he played a wise man in his first nativity and Paul and I went to see it separately so that there would be someone in the audience for him at both performances, and both tried not to cry. The year Elodie started talking. The year they started to play together. I’m so proud of both of them; so grateful.
In January, I started running The Motherload Book Club. It’s gone from zero members to just over 3,500 in 2018, and I’ve read some incredible books and had a huge number of books come through my letterbox. It’s been a lot of work, but I’m really proud of the welcoming, supportive space to talk about books that the admins, The Motherload team and I have created. I read and listened to eighty-nine books this year. For anyone who’s interested, and who I haven’t told yet, my favourite three were The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech, Bitter by Francesca Jakobi and What We’re Teaching our Sons by Owen Booth.
2018 was also the year of some truly astonishing fundraising efforts for Rachel and her family. The White Horse Wishing Well transformed her home so it’s ready for her to move back to. My friend Michael ran 127 miles in under a week, from his house in London to mine in Leicestershire. The nursery our children attend organised a sponsored seven-mile walk in the summer. Just recently, a friend of Rachel’s from school has created a beautiful print that she will sell to raise funds, and she sent a few of them for us to give to the other people who have helped, to say thank you. I’ll never forget these kindnesses. I’ll never be able to express what they have meant.
I’m hopeful for 2019. Rachel should come home to live. I should have one or possibly two new books published. Joseph will turn six; Elodie will turn three. When we put the kids to bed tonight, I told Joseph I love him until the end of the world. He smiled, and said that he loves me until dinosaurs exist again. I know how lucky I am. I know it outweighs the hardship. I try hard, every day, to remember that.