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A few years ago, I was having a terrible day in work. I’m a Consultant in Communicable Disease Control, and like all doctors, I have good days and bad days – it comes with being a medic. But some occasions stand out as being particularly awful, and that afternoon was one of them. In the midst of yet more notifications of infected people falling seriously ill, a primary school rang up. They wanted to report an outbreak of uncontrollable giggling amongst their pupils.
This cheered up the team immensely, and helped us get through the next 48 hours. But when I finally got to bed, I couldn’t sleep, so I started to think. We hadn’t found any cause for the giggling. Nevertheless, it seemed scientifically plausible that there really were microbes that could affect the brain and make people feel happy. This made me cheerful just thinking about it. It sounded fantastical, but could be real.
As a child, I’d always wanted stories to be possible in real life. I picked books that took me away from grey reality, to where life and death decisions filled the pages and unlikely friendships were forged. I especially enjoyed stories with overwhelmingly happy endings. What I didn’t expect was that being a doctor would be so like those books.
Not all the time, of course (definitely no dragons), but I recognized the same symptoms and emotions in medics as in those book heroes: hearts pounding, hands trembling, tears, exhaustion, self-doubt, elation, relief. I recognised too the desperate fight to save lives before disaster struck.
I decided that night to write a book that captured these themes, a book to give children hope. I wanted to put in the same off-beat humour and bonds of friendship that got doctors and nurses through dark days. But very ambitiously, I also wanted to create a story with sound scientific principles; one in which everything was possible in real life.
Most importantly though, my book had to have a happy ending. Real life is sometimes so catastrophically awful for children, fiction shouldn’t be. It took me several years to write. Finding time was a real struggle, I wrote in the odd hour I could salvage, sometimes I got up early and wrote before work. Still, it was fantastic at distracting me from work worries. There’s nothing like wrestling with a complex plot to relieve stress.
After I’d finished it, I didn’t have a clue what to do next. I’d heard that it’s easier to win the lottery than get a book published. So, when I heard about the annual Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition, I posted off the manuscript.
On a chilly January evening a few months later, the phone rang. It was Chicken House, to tell me that the book had been longlisted for the competition. It wasn’t shortlisted (I had a lot still to learn about book writing), but the publishers asked if I’d like to work with them to develop it for publication. Of course, I said yes. I had no idea what to expect, but I’ve since discovered it’s the same for all authors: editing and re-editing; re-writing the same chapter five times is normal. My editors were relentlessly positive, and understood my work commitments, so there was no unrealistic pressure on me to deliver.
Finally, after a flurry of copy editing and proof-reading, something positive finally hatched out of that terrible day years previously. Alice Dent and the Incredible Germs was published on March 1st this year.
But I didn’t expect what happened next…
I love the fact that you have added a teaser at the end . . .
Well done Gwen. I’ve got an Amazon voucher upstairs ready for when I place my next order and the order will definitely include your offering. Looking forward to reading this one an of course, the next x
So glad your dream turned into a reality Gwen, it's a beautiful book that I hope will enrich and inspire my grandchildren's lives. Well done! x