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Always Remember to Blaze a Trail

2009 was one of the worst years of my life. Or – as the Queen would put it – my annus horribilus.

My then partner had been diagnosed with cancer – a brain tumour – and told he only had months to live.

A close member of my family was being bullied at school and becoming a shadow of their former self before our eyes.

And my writing career felt dead in the water.

There were many times during that year when I felt as if I was drowning. I’m a natural born optimist but there are times when life throws so much crap at you that you just can’t see a way through.

I remember one day, after I’d burnt some toast, sinking to the kitchen floor and crying for about an hour.

I’d tried so hard to maintain a strong and bright exterior to the outside world but inside, I could feel myself slipping away.

It’s at times like these that you need an intervention. You need someone to step in and shine a light on your darkness.

For me, it came in the form of a conversation with a friend.

It was one of those rich, late night conversations in which you really connect with another human being and the rest of the world temporarily fades away. My friend was a fellow writer and from a similar background, growing up on a London council estate. He got me. And I got him. He’d seen that I was drowning and so he set about throwing me a life-line made from words – it definitely helped that he was a poet.

Amongst many other things, he told me that he always thought of me as being just like a shooting star and that I mustn’t ever stop blazing a trail.

For most of that year I’d felt more like one of those dud home fireworks that splutters and fizzles out to disappointed sighs. It felt incomprehensible that he should see me in this way.

But his words lodged in my brain – and gave me something to cling to.

I went home emboldened.

My partner wasn’t going to die.

My family member wasn’t going to be bullied any more.

And I was going to write another book – and publish it myself.

As I knew that it would be all too easy for me to slip back into my feelings of depression, I got a shooting star tattooed on my wrist as a constant reminder.

And from that moment on, before I said or did anything, I’d think to myself, what would a person who’s just like a shooting star do? How can I blaze a trail?

My partner ended up defying the doctors and surviving. Sadly, we broke up, but we remain the very best of friends. He has now been free from cancer for over five years.

I helped my family member who was being bullied move to a new school and they are now back to their happy, carefree self, with a wide group of new friends.

The book I wrote and self-published went on to win a national award. (I couldn’t help smiling when I saw that the award itself was star-shaped.)

The book then went to auction and the publishers I signed up with said how much they loved my star tattoo – and could they incorporate it into my name on my book covers?

At the launch party for my second novel with that publisher (Finding Cherokee Brown) I stood there about to give a reading and I don’t think I’ve ever felt happier.

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There was my ex-boyfriend, smiling and cancer-free. There were the posters of the book with the stars designed into my name. There were my closest friends – my rocks during that terrible time. And there were so many other, newer friends, who didn’t even know me back in those dark days.

And there I was, about to read from a book I’d written about bullying – inspired by what we’d been through during that dark time.

It was such an important lesson in never giving up, no matter how hard things get.

And, echoing around my head were my friend’s words, said to me but applicable to everyone:

‘You’re just like a shooting star – don’t ever stop blazing a trail.’

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