The ability of books to change lives in subtle but powerful ways has always been a source of wonder to me. The way they take you on journeys beyond the scope of your circumstances or budget; or allow you to see the world through the eyes of others and make sense of events in ways you previously hadn’t considered.
As someone who’s had a love affair with reading since childhood, it’s hard to pick out a single book that affected me most, but I could give you a long list of novels that stayed with me afterwards, by authors ranging from Daphne Du Maurier to Stephen King.
The question of which book had the most impact on me that I wrote is easier. ‘You Me Everything’ is my tenth novel and it’s no exaggeration to say it affected me profoundly, in more ways than the book and film deals, or even my change of name.
I’d been writing romantic comedies under the pseudonym Jane Costello for ten years when I had grain of an idea for the story. The mother of someone I know had recently been diagnosed with a neurological condition and the news had devastated not just her, but the entire family. I couldn’t stop thinking about them, but dismissed writing about it at first. There was no way I could do justice to such a difficult topic within the genre I was known for.
Then my agent Sheila Crowley suggested I should try writing something with more emotional depth, something that would take my writing to the next level. Even though I’d built up a loyal following for my Jane Costello novels, I knew she was right.
Still, the decision to depict a life-limiting condition came with the important proviso that I didn’t want to simply write a book about a disease.
First and foremost, I wanted to write a book about people, about hope and about love, in all its forms. And, even if readers got through a box of tissues on the way, I wanted them to feel uplifted by the time they turned the last page. But it was only as I began writing that the real messages of the book began to crystallise. Messages about living life in the moment, cherishing those you love and not taking anything for granted. It gave me a lot to think about.
I’m as guilty as anyone of letting stress get to me. When the pressures of work and domestic life collide it’s hard not to collapse into bed each night feeling frazzled and fed up. But each morning after I’d dropped my kids off at school and settled in to a corner in my local coffee shop to write, I found myself gaining some precious perspective on everything that had been troubling me. This wasn’t any single great moment of epiphany. Just a daily reminder of what’s really important in life, none of which had been the things keeping me awake at night.
On the weekend when I wrote what turned out to be a very emotional ending, I wiped away tears, walked home and gave each of my boys a big hug (even if my eldest thinks he’s too grown up for them these days).
Of course, the breathless chaos of juggling work and home life hasn’t stopped. My house is the antithesis of zen-like calm. But, if things are ever getting on top of me, there are still moments when I’ll take a few deep breaths and remember how I felt when writing You Me Everything, a book that turned out to be special to me in more ways than I can express here. If a little bit of this rubs off on those reading it, I’ll consider my job done.