Writing Against the Odds – Alice Peterson
Alice Peterson had just been awarded a tennis scholarship to America when she discovered she had rheumatoid arthritis. She never picked up a racquet again but the theme of disability often features in her novels. Here, she continues our Writing Against the Odds series. ♥
How many of you write things down to make sense of a problem? I love writing lists of things to do. How satisfying when I can tick the things off!
For me, writing has always played an important part in my life. From the age of 12 I started to keep a diary. It was at a time when I had all the usual ups and downs of going to school and I fell in love with someone different on virtually every single page. I’d also just started to play tennis competitively and had entered my first county tournament. My diaries were full of excited scribbles about how much I wanted to win Wimbledon and the crush I had on my tennis coach.
For the next six years I spent every day and weekend on the tennis court. I played competitions in around the UK and abroad. Aged 18, I was one of the top ten national junior players in the country and on the verge of signing a tennis scholarship to America when I began to experience pain in my right hand. After many blood tests, finally I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune condition that has no cure. Overnight my dreams were torn apart. I have never picked up a racquet since and from that day forward, I stopped writing a diary. My world had ended. Ironically, this was probably the time when I needed to write more than ever.
However, six years after the diagnosis, aged 24, my passion for writing returned. My first book, A Will to Win, was published over ten years ago and tells the story of my tennis-mad childhood and my battle to beat RA. I owe so much to an old family friend, Robert, who encouraged me to pick up a pen again. Back in the summer of 1997, when I was sitting with him in the garden, he asked, ‘How are you?’ I’d just had an operation on both feet. Instead of saying, ‘Fine, thank you’ I started to tell Robert how much I still missed my tennis. I described the agony of the recent surgery. I told him I felt lost and scared of the future.
‘Have you ever thought about putting this down on paper?’ he asked.
‘No. Why?’ I replied.
‘Well, it might help you to make some sort of sense of what has happened and you do have a story to tell.’
After Robert had left I wiped off the dust that had settled between the keys of my old word processor and started to write about my tennis. Soon I was writing chapter after chapter. Something came alive within me. Putting down in words my anger, pain and grief gave me a sense of freedom and relief. To begin with it all came pouring out in a great jumble of thoughts, but the more I wrote, the more I was able to look at events objectively. It was as if I were standing outside the picture, looking in. When I was diagnosed with RA it seemed like the worst imaginable thing. I wished I’d never played tennis because then I would not have felt such a sense of loss. However, remembering the competitions made me think not only of the fun I’d had on court, but also of my dogged determination. It made me realise that my tennis experiences have been invaluable because I have been able to channel that determination I had on court into beating the RA. I will never give up because my training has instilled in me the spirit to fight. I have come to see it as my saviour.
When I came to the end of my story, I had a choice to make. Had I written my story as a therapeutic exercise or did I want to try and get it published? I loved the creative side and I also enjoyed the challenge. I sent it off to various agents and after weeks of nail biting panic, finally I secured a publishing deal with Macmillan. It felt wonderful. In so many ways it was the beginning of a new life.
Since writing A Will to Win – now republished as Another Alice I have had six novels published, including Monday to Friday Man, the ebook that whipped 50 Shades of Grey off the number one spot! It’s a dog-walking comedy that was inspired by my own Lucas Terrier, Darcy. What an exciting time that was!
I really enjoy writing about people who are different with humour and compassion and I love to research as much as I can to get right under the skin of my characters. My last novel, By My Side, is a love story about a young woman turning her life around after a spinal cord injury. She is in a dark place until she meets Ticket, the most loyal golden Labrador, who turns her life around.
Alice Peterson is the author of A Will to Win (updated as Another Alice), a biography of her grandmother’s life in Rhodesia and several novels, including her new release One Step Closer to You which recently won Best Romantic Read at the Festival of Romance 2014.