Today at the Pink Heart Society we welcome back another of our beloved Founders. What has happened in their lives in the last eight years? How's the writing going? The next to answer those questions is the fabulous Natasha Oakley.
Where have I been?
My most 'recent' book was published in 2009. I checked. For the first time, that is. It's been out again in the UK this summer and is working its way around the world... as all our romances do.
Cinderella And The Sheikh was intended to be the first of a duet, but the second book is still only one third written. Events conspired against me and it stalled. Permanently, I think.
I ought to tell you at this point that I am to cancer what Typhoid Mary was to typhus. I'm surrounded by it.
You might want to get yourself a large slab of cake to go with your coffee at this point...
The pic of my family (below) was taken at my brother's wedding back in 2000.
A handful of days after it was taken, my husband Nigel was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, stage 4. It's inoperable and currently, incurable. Ten years to the day when Nigel and I became engaged, we were told he had cancer and they would try to 'buy us' another ten years. But at some point, he would not respond to the drugs available and he would die.
Understandably, it was life changing.
I was an actress then, but I gave up my equity card and concentrated on supporting my husband and guiding my very young children through some fairly tough stuff (you would not believe the things well-meaning adults said over their heads!)
That's when I began writing - as a creative displacement activity. In 2003, my first book, For Our Children's Sake, was published in the UK.
And so, life went on, interspersed with bouts of chemo. Thankfully Nigel responded well and we 'bought' more time. I carried on writing. I was one of the launch authors in the newly re-vamped Romance line as it was called back then. I was a RITA finalist. I wrote one of the books in the Niroli continuity series which was published under the Presents banner in the States.
Since I'd always written against a backdrop of cancer, I was unprepared for what happened next.
In 2007, my lovely mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
My dad, himself a survivor of bowel cancer, had had a brain stem bleed and needed help caring for her. So, I picked up my laptop and went to stay. Within four months of her initial diagnosis my mum, still in her sixties, was taken by ambulance to our local hospice. Simultaneously my dad was taken to his hospital in his own ambulance, having suffered a heart attack. As grotty days go, that one was pretty grotty.
And oddly enough, that's where Sheikh Book 2, stalled.
Within the week, my mum had died. I'd really hit the jackpot on the mum-font. Mine was an absolute darling and great fun to be with. I'm always grateful there are no sore places in my relationship with her, nothing left unsaid and no festering hurt anywhere. I was incredibly blessed, but the downside of that is the huge hole she's left in my life. In one cruel swipe, my support - emotional and practical - was gone. She was the one person I could leave all of my five children with at a moment's notice and the only person I could talk to about what I'd do if Nigel died who wouldn't reply with 'it'll be fine'. Now I was on my own, dealing with questions like 'will you marry again if daddy dies?' and 'will we be able to stay in this house if daddy dies?'
Within two months of my mum's death, a routine scan detected my husband's cancer was active once more and we began another round of chemo. For the first time it wasn't successful and we started moving toward a stem cell transplant.
Have you eaten that slab of cake yet? Want to pause and get another?
By this point of the story, I'm not writing anything. I'm just busy.
Writing is a business. The publisher has 'slots' to fill, there are deadlines to meet but I simply didn't know which way life was going to blow me. I talked to the editors in Richmond. They were lovely. And with one book left on my contract, I took a break.
Then, aged fourteen, my daughter caught a virus. She slept almost continuously for several months, but seemed to recover well - although she began to experience eye tracking problems. It transpires the virus had further weakened what must have been a natural weakness in the muscles of her eyes. Then we had another round of chemo to contend with and Nigel, who was a Head Teacher, was made redundant with no prospect of getting another job while heading towards that stem cell transplant. Financially, I was on my own and, frankly, scared.
And then my brother's wife gave birth to her second child and there were serious complications. So, I found myself with a newborn and a six year old. My brother needed to concentrate on his wife and it was a few months before their family was happily back home together.
Another round of chemo pushed Nigel into remission once more and he was ready for the stem cell transplant. If you've made it this far, I'm sure you'll not be surprised to learn he picked up a super-bug while in hospital. And after surviving that, he came home to recover.
Now we had a period of calm, but I felt... buffeted. I think that's the best way of describing it. Nigel took a temporary teaching post and I began to think about writing again.
And then... You didn't think we were done, did you?!
My daughter developed acute headaches and double vision. She'd just started university and had to put her place on hold. Her condition worsened until she was no longer able to read and had no prospect of ever driving. Her specific symptoms were unusual, her eyesight constantly shifting, and it would take two years before she'd risen high enough in the medical hierarchy to meet a consultant who was prepared to operate. Of course, during the wait, Nigel's cancer returned and he had to endure another round of debilitating chemotherapy.
This summer, Liddy had her eye operation. There were significant risks attached to it, but it would seem fortune indeed favours the brave. All went fantastically well. I can't tell you how lovely it is to write that! And Nigel has responded well to his most recent cocktail of poisons. He's on a two year maintenance programme, with his next scan scheduled for January.
So... here I am...
I can't say all is now 'rosy' in my garden, but it is feeling easier and I'm beginning to have the head space required to play the 'What if?' game that leads to writing.
As I flipped open my laptop and started to wonder what my 'voice' would sound like now and where I would 'fit', Trish Wylie steered me in the direction of Facebook. (A baby step back into the world, she said.) And that decision has had an... um... unexpected side-effect.
I've started a food blog: The Cherry Plum Kitchen. It's writing, albeit of a different sort, and I get to share some of the recipes my lovely mum passed down to me. Come and play!
And as for my next romance? Watch this space...
Many of Natasha Oakley's fantastic romances have been released on EBook in the last few months. So, if you haven't read one before (and BOY, have you missed out if that's the case!) or want a shiny new copy of an old favourite for your EReader, get thee hence to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or your usual online retailer.