Cancer doesn’t stop you falling in love, as Celia Bryce’s novel makes plain. DAVID WHETSTONE spoke to the author
A TOUCHING tale of young love is garnering good reviews for Tynemouth writer Celia Bryce.
Anthem For Jackson Dawes tells of the relationship between two teenagers, Megan and the Jackson of the title, who meet in hospital where they are being treated for cancer.
If that sounds potentially syrupy, it isn’t. “The story had to be true to life because I hate sentimentality, can’t bear it,” says Celia.
In fact, it is funny and utterly believable with appealing characters who are no more saintly for being ill.
Megan can’t grasp at first that she is ill. She doesn’t feel it, at least before the chemotherapy starts.
The fact that her devoted 96-year-old grandad is in rude health does not strike her as unfair, nor does the author make an issue of it. In life we’re not all dealt the same hand.
Celia has been writing for a long time and her credits include many short stories and an award-winning radio play. But this is her first novel.
“I’ve never really wanted to write a novel before,” she says.
It just seemed the story I was writing needed a bigger frame. There was too much going on for it to be a short story.”
There’s an author’s note at the back of the book in which Celia says she can pinpoint no incident or moment that inspired the story. Rather, it “emerged from a whole series of stories swimming around inside me”.
Celia used to be a nurse but she says the novel isn’t based on personal experience. Her two daughters, now grown up, are fit and well, although since she started writing the story she has learned of others who weren’t so fortunate.
The book is dedicated to two young cancer victims.
Celia did her research, visiting the teenage cancer unit at Newcastle’s RVI and talking to people at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester, and has had time to get things right.
She says she started writing the story in 2002, not imagining then that it would be a novel. In 2006 she won a Time to Write award from New Writing North.
“That was excellent. I used it to go to a literary consultancy, Cornerstones, who looked at my book and showed me what needed doing.”
They helped Celia to secure an agent, James Catchpole, who sent the manuscript to publishers. Two were keen and Celia signed a two-book deal with Bloomsbury.
Anthem For Ashley Dawes was published on Amazon Kindle on Christmas Day and in book form a few days ago.
Seeing it in front of her finally was “fantastic”, says Celia. “I actually did cry. My husband said, ‘But this is what you’ve always wanted’.”
Now the book – described on the sleeve as “an uplifting story of bravery, loss and love against the odds” – is in the shops (and online) and getting a favourable reaction from the targeted young readers.
Celia is busy fulfilling her obligations to Bloomsbury by writing novel number two – a very different story, set in Belgium in 1914.
Meanwhile, it’s possible you may have encountered her demonstrating another creative talent, as singer with country rock band The Katy Freeway.
:: Anthem For Jackson Dawes by Celia Bryce (Bloomsbury, £6.99)