So as I’m still trying to work out what to blog about, I thought I’d write about one of my favourite writers and what she means to me – the totally bonkers Nancy Mitford.
I didn’t read any of Nancy’s eight books until a couple of years ago. All I knew about her was based on a 2001 BBC adaptation of Love in A Cold Climate and a column by India Knight (but since she also recommends the brilliant Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield I figured I could probably trust her opinion).
At some point during the past decade, I’d also picked up a copy of Mary S. Lovell’s biography of the six Mitford Sisters, but it wasn’t until 2014 that I finally started reading.
That was the year my husband was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He found a lump in his neck the day before his 42nd birthday and went to the doctor’s the next day. Two months later, we discovered he had stage 4 Lymphoma and began a 6-month programme of chemotherapy.
At the time I was just finishing my first book for Harlequin, but I couldn’t think about that, preferring to lose myself in somebody else’s writing as we sat in a succession of hospital waiting and treatment rooms. The unexpected thing about oncology departments is how cheerful most people are. After the first awful few visits, you get into a routine. I made friends with the tea-man (a wonderful 87-year-old volunteer called Harry) and spent a lot of time reading about the Mitfords. If you like biographies, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s such a gripping read that you almost can’t believe it’s not fiction.
Then one night my husband had chest pains and we had to call an ambulance. In Accident and Emergency, after he’d fallen asleep, I started to read Nancy’s The Pursuit of Love off my phone’s Kindle app, a bittersweet, semi-autobiographical gem of a novel, which I chose without really considering why.
Anyway, the moment that – hopefully! – brings these threads together came at the very end of Lovell’s biography, when I read that Nancy Mitford died in 1973 of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I remember feeling a kind of jolt. It was one of those weird coincidences, firstly that I’d chosen that particular biography to read during my husband’s treatment, secondly that I’d turned to her novel at a particularly low point. Maybe it was a stray piece of information that I’d buried away in my brain and wasn’t conscious of remembering, or maybe it was something else. I don’t know, but that’s why I’ll always a soft spot for Nancy. Sometimes a writer just calls and connects to you at some point of your life, and she’s one of those for me. I love her acerbic humour and the poignancy of her several doomed love affairs. I wish that she’d had a happier ending. As a romance writer, I wish that she’d found the love story she wanted. But she means a lot to me.
And I’m happy to say that thanks to his treatment my husband is now in remission. He’s the one who told me to stop worrying and to get back to writing my book. Which I did. So I can honestly say I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.