I first started writing One Last Hundred Chances around 2004 or 2005, I’d just left my hometown of Eastbourne and the characters pretty much wandered into my head unannounced.
Hazel, Freya, Chris, Abigail; the four school friends who formed the core narrative have all had different tangents and storylines. Because of this, I can actually see them as four fully-rounded people, foibles and all, which I hope comes through in the story. Stella and her husband Steve, Chris’ partner Jono, Abigail and her husband Scott, with their two children, Amelie and Scarlett, have also all been loafing around in various guises for a while too.
I guess there is a bit of me in all of them, although when I go to the beach, I will never look as good or as put together as Stella. In one version, Stella originally worked part-time as a dominatrix; a few chapters was the four of them and Steve fitting out her studio. I had fun with that one, but as they lived in Brighton, I shelved it as too much of a cliché.
Also removed was the scene I wrote about Chris coming out to his parents. Last year’s pandemic meant (like many others) I inhaled Schitt’s Creek. I loved the world that Dan and Eugene Levy created, particularly the complete lack of homophobia. I do feel the more that occurs, the bigotry and asshat-ness will be shown up for the revolting behaviour that it is.
One of the first scenes I wrote was the shopping trip around The Lanes, although it had a mercy mission with Hazel and Stella rescuing Freya from buying up half of Lush. Another early scene was one in Lewes, where I had all the girls meeting for lunch. I talked about ‘starting out at the base-camp of Boots and walking up School Hill’, for those of you who’ve walked up it, you’ll know how steep it is.
Then The Duchess appeared. Freya’s mum, who is a truly awful person, avid social climber and will not stop until she’s driven her family to their expected status in life. The car trip from Brighton to Eastbourne, hospital visit and Freya’s family history fell out of me. I particularly like Freya’s sister Victoria saying that even though she lives in New Zealand “It’s still not far enough away.” When you read that section, neither I nor Wendi, my wonderful editor, needed to change much in it. Except for my tenses, as I get them all arse about face, and think I always will do.
But for the next few years, not much happened. I’d add bits in, rewrite other bits, tinker, fiddle. However, nothing much came from it. I had probably 20-30,000 words (about a third of a novel), but other than ‘school friends, keep it small’ I didn’t really know what to do the four of them, or with it.
So the four of them would linger in my imagination, I’d make occasional notes in my phone or on emails to myself. My writing process is odd, insofar that I will hear a sentence in my head and whoosh, off I go and out it comes. And amazingly, if I make a note of that sentence, even months later, I can still riff off it.
Then, our house got broken into. The bastards took so much; jewellery, watches, small electrical stuff, even packed things into our bags to cart it out the house. They also took our Mac, which had baby photos on, and everything that we’d had on USB sticks, because the memory was so big, why wouldn’t we put it on the Mac?
As an aside, despite having individual serial numbers, apparently you can’t trace a stolen Mac with them. Which is maddening.
We went through everything we could find to try and find the files we’d lost. We had some files in the cloud, but not everything. We had some files on external hard-drives, but not everything. Friends started emailing and texting photos of our son as a baby, but the book, other than what was in my head was gone.
I gave it up as a lost cause and forgot about it. In the interim, I was having problems with my lady bits, after backwards and forwards for seven years and thirty-odd years of horrendous periods, I was finally scheduled to have a hysterectomy in April 2019. Hurrah! I hired a hospital table to go over the bed, as until the surgeon started, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to perform the surgery via key-hole. Reader, he did. However, just in case I was opened up stem to stern, I wanted something I could read / colour-in and rest my laptop on to watch movies if not.
I bounced back really well, I had six weeks off work to recuperate. I pulled out my laptop and started writing. I cleared two or three 10,000 word days in the first week re-writing what I’d lost and found that the plot had changed. Domestic violence and coercive control was coming through thick and fast in the behaviour towards Hazel from Ronnie. I got more of the book down, let my imagination run riot on plotting and settled in to do some research.
Going online and following breadcrumbs, I found my way into a couple of Reddit forums and a closed Facebook group. I lurked for a bit, then started sharing things that had happened to me, encouraged other people to report and then I posted this:
I am writing a novel about coercive control and DV, do any of you want to share your stories with me? If you’re happy for me to include them, I will ensure nothing will identify you. Is there something that happened to you that you would use as a red flag? Is there a story you want to tell so you can let it go?
I set up a seperate email address, and slowly stories and messages started to come in. My research continued and then I listened to a BBC Woman’s Hour article on the eight escalation steps abusers follow, more information from the BBC here: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-49481998
This was my framework, I had a clear pattern of behaviour I could make Ronnie follow. Using different memories and dialogue from the people who emailed me their stories, the book started coming together.
I was working for a sociopath and after six (hellish) months, out of the blue, I got a call from a recruiter who asked if I was looking for a change, I jumped at the chance to move. Then the pandemic hit in March 2020. The whole world was upended, DV incidents started to spike and I knew, I just knew I had to get the book finished and out into the world.
I looked at the ‘normal’ publishing route, and was horrified at the length of time it would take. People didn’t have that long! So I investigated self-publishing and put feelers out for an editor on Upworthy. Enter Wendi from https://www.cuttingecopy.com/ I gave her and another editor the dream sequence, followed by the shopping trip in Brighton and the hospital visit to read for a trial run. The other editor put it all into Hemingway and sent it back to me, Wendi went through with a fine toothed comb, made some great suggestions and off we went.
I printed out a calendar of each year from 1996 to 2006, plotting everything in from TV events and movie releases, FA Cup Finals, to concerts at Wembley, Bank Holidays, anything and everything I could think of to remind me. I listened to music from that period all the time, memories came flooding back about what it was like to live then. It pays to be a pop-culture nerd at times.
I set myself publication date of 1 October 2020. I gave Wendi everything I’d written to edit and tidy up, while I carried on with what I needed to write. We would spend ages on video conferences chatting about the story, working it out, talking things through until one call when Wendi said, “You’re going to have to show Ronnie hitting Hazel. Everything is about her being worried about it, or she’s in the aftermath, we need a scene where he does it.” We made that the middle of the book as it’s the fulcrum point.
I am so proud of it. Even if I got the formatting and pagination a bit skewiff in the first version and only realised when my author copies arrived. I’ve also added more resources at the back. The book took fifteen years to be finished, but is all the better for the delay. While I’m hard at work on book two, when I put that last full-stop down on One Last Hundred Chances will always be one of my proudest moments.