Guest Post with Sue McDonagh
Today I'm delighted to welcome my very good friend and writing buddy, Sue McDonagh, back to the blog. Sue and I go back a long way and met in a writing group before either of us was published. And here we are now with Sue's fantastic fifth novel, The Sea Sisters Swimming Club, coming out tomorrow two days before my fourth. We are both published by JOFFE BOOKS under their Choc Lit imprint.
Sue, welcome back. I'm very excited about your new book on your behalf. Not only does it look fabulous with another of your own cover designs, but I've had the privilege of reading an ARC and can tell readers they're in for another Sue McDonagh treat. I'm going to let you tell readers about the story behind the novel. Over to you!
Thanks, Jan. They say you should write what you know. When I first started planning this novel, my heroine, Fran was going to be stabbed while on duty. Fate has a way of taking a hand though, and gifted me a six-week research period that changed the book, and my life. In November 2021, I woke in the middle of the night with a heavy, weighted feeling in my chest. Indigestion, I decided. I’d had a busy day, eaten badly and rushed what I had eaten in front of a Zoom meeting. Totally my own fault. I propped myself up on pillows and dozed off eventually.The next morning, I jumped into a minibus with half a dozen swimming mates, to head off to
near Aberystwyth to film a Visit Wales advert, in the sea. I felt ropey all day, rubbing my chest constantly. Looking back, I don’t quite know how I forced myself to walk around the shops, have a meal with everyone, walk back to our guest house – very, very slowly – and then get up for a long day's filming in the North Sea, in my swimsuit.
When I got home, pain engulfed me after a cuppa and a slice of toast. Still not alerted by an erratic heart-rate that went from 45 to 145, I didn’t even go to hospital until the following day, after a retired nurse friend forced the issue. So convinced was I by my self-diagnosed indigestion, I didn’t even take a phone charger, let alone pack a bag. I didn’t see my own bed for six weeks.
When the lovely cardiac consultant asked me what I’d been doing during my not one, but two heart attacks, which had damaged my heart and would need extensive open heart surgery, I watched his eyes roll ever so slightly as I told him I’d been swimming. In the sea. For six and a half hours. In my bathers.
‘It’s a good thing you’re fit,’ he said, at last. ‘You’ll be here for at least a fortnight. Get someone to bring a bag in for you.’
‘So – definitely not indigestion, then?’ I remember asking, weakly. I don’t think he bothered to reply.
It was a scary prospect. Two of my heart valves had simply blown apart. I’d had no warning beforehand, no genetic heart issues, although I’d had advanced ovarian cancer in my twenties. The staff in my cardiac ward were absolutely lovely. I was fitted with a heart monitor, the size of half a brick, and I had nowhere to put it.
‘Stick it down your pants,’ one of the other patients told me. Brilliant idea. Until I went to the loo and forgot all about it. I saved it just as it almost disappeared down the pan. The staff rushed to shout at me through the bathroom door as I’d pulled all the leads off myself and sent the monitor at the nurse's station haywire.
They were out in force a few days later when, determined to have a shower, I collapsed, unconscious in the bathroom with a massive gastric bleed that I knew nothing about. I came round with my bed space rammed full of staff, and the doctor folding away those paddles that bring you back to life. I have no idea whether they actually used them.
I looked round at them all, and said, ‘Sorry everyone. But at least I smell nice.’ Ever the entertainer… 🙈 My nurse friend told me they’d rather have me smelly than dead 🤣
After four weeks, seven units of blood and veins that collapsed after a scant hour or two, I think they were pleased to see me off the premises to the hospital where I’d finally be having surgery. I like to think that I brightened their days, occasionally. Especially the evening they changed the battery in the heart monitor and water poured out of it.
‘Have you had another shower?’
‘Me? No,’ I lied, unconvincingly, while my fellow patients outed me loudly. What can I say? I hate being grubby! Perhaps this is why I swim…
I gave Fran, my heroine, all my hospital experiences - although I don’t mention them in any detail. It made sorting out my often chaotic timelines easier, as I simply used my own calendar.
became a sort of therapy for me – writing took me away from the house when I didn’t feel well enough to walk much, and allowed me to think through issues like the terrible, livid scar that ran so obviously from neck to navel. I have many scars, from my cancer, and two hip replacements, but nobody sees those. This one is clearly visible in every top I own – and it’s a reminder of what happened every time I look in the mirror. Now, eighteen months later, it’s barely noticeable, even in a swimsuit, and I see it as a survivor's mark. A blessing, and a tribute to the skill of my cardiac team. I dedicated the book to them. Thank you again.
The Sea Sisters Swimming Club is a comedy, which might seem strange for such a terrifying experience, but hopefully, you already see the opportunities for humour that arose during my stay in hospital. I laughed so much as I wrote it, and I hope you enjoy it too.
Available to Pre-Order in digital and paperback, it’s released on 29th August, 2023. I can’t wait to see it out there!
A huge thank you to Jan for hosting me on her blog 😘
It's a pleasure, Sue. I remember the message you sent cancelling our meet-up for coffee, cake and writing chat. 'I've had a heart attack... well, two actually!' To see your amazing recovery and to know this new novel is a result of your writing 'therapy' has been wonderful. I wish you good luck with The Sea Sisters Swimming Club. I'm sure its sales will soar!
Buying links: https://amzn.eu/d/b41VFgS
Social Media links:
Facebook author page https://www.facebook.com/SueMcDonaghWriter/
Fifty-year-old police officer Fran Doherty thought she had a good few years left in her. But if a heart attack while dancing the night away at a disco in a sequin dress isn't a sign to slow down, then she doesn't know what is . . .
Fran's waved good-bye to the force and hello to her pension. but who is she without her job? She decides to get away from it all in Llanbryn, an idyllic seaside village in Wales. it beats feeling sorry for herself and watching Homes Under the Hammer all day.
Fran's soon taken under the wing of the Sea Sisters, a group of inspirational women of all ages and sizes who swim in the ocean. They challenge her to move on from the past and face her life-long fear of the sea.
And the strapping Wyn watches her eye. He appears to be the local troublemaker, but perhaps Fran's got the wrong end of the stick . . .
The closer she gets to Wyn, the more she's unable to deny the feelings he brings out in her. And Llanbryn feels more like home with every passing day.
Fran feels more alive than she has in years, but Wyn has his own emotional scars. maybe they can help each other?
Thank you for reading. If you are writer, has writing ever acted as therapy for you? I'd love it if you shared your experience in the comments below. Thanks.
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THE SECRET SISTER is available to pre-order for 99p. on Amazon and is currently available on NetGalley.
Publication day Thursday 31st August.
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