Yesterday, my daughter Ellie and I went to London to attend a book launch, Rise, written by journalist Sian Williams. Sian had invited us following an interview with me when she was researching her book on the subject of surviving and thriving after trauma.
We ‘met’ on Twitter; Sian was broadcasting a programme about the relationship between wellbeing and exercise, something I’m passionate about, for myself, and for others. Unbeknown to me, Sian looked me up, her curiosity piqued by a lingerie company tweeting about the importance of exercise for women undergoing breast cancer treatment. When she made contact, it was to ask how I felt about being interviewed for a book she was working on. I gulped, and agreed.
She interviewed me for almost an hour, thoroughly and with the rigour I would expect from a BBC journalist, and during a pause in our conversation, I asked her why she’d chosen this subject for her book. That was when she told me that she’d recently undergone a double mastectomy, and instantly, we had something in our life that was a shared experience. I’ve felt this connection many times now as I’ve met and talked to women about their experiences of living after breast cancer treatment, with a special focus on the challenges we all face on getting dressed in the morning. At that time Sian hadn’t gone public about her health, and I was moved that she trusted a virtual stranger with this precious secret.
What I didn’t know then is that our chat would translate into almost a chapter of her new book, Rise. The final chapter in fact, page 267 to be specific! She kindly sent me a draft ahead of publishing, which took me four attempts to read because I welled up, reliving our conversation and feeling emotional as we both had at the time. She captured it sensitively and beautifully, leaving nothing out.
Yesterday, I bought a copy of the book, signed by Sian, and she wrote “because it’s not just a bit of lace” – meaning the bra. Damn right it’s not, it’s a fundamental part of any woman’s daily life; getting dressed, feeling comfortable, and hopefully a little bit fabulous. Trouble is, after breast cancer treatment, we need rather a lot more from our bras, and until now, I like many, felt that no-one seemed to care. But I do.
So, back to the book launch. Marylebone High Street, very swish, the venue was Daunt bookshop, a beautiful old tiered delight of a retail space that made my book loving daughter simply swoon. We stepped hesitantly in, but once armed with a glass of sparkle, we mingled. First we met Sian’s dynamic PR duo who regaled us with stories of Sian’s news breaking too soon, the joy of jumpsuits, and mindfulness for children who struggle to “be” in the here and now. Then we met Sian’s producers, two lovely, smart women who generously shared their stories of entering the world of journalism with Ellie, who is just about to graduate and is aspiring to become a journalist. We also met some of Sian’s publishing team, and one or two magazine writers, all of whom seemed genuinely interested in our presence. We enjoyed meeting them and having the opportunity to raise yet more awareness of why good bra design is so fundamental to women’s self of self and confidence after breast cancer treatment.
My eyes searched the room to see if I could pick out by sight any of the other people whom Sian had interviewed for the book, I would love to have met them and had a “me too” moment. I didn’t manage to, but maybe now we’ll find each other as we delve into the pages.
Sian had a busy evening, meeting and greeting, and giving a short reading from the Juliet balcony that was the upper bookshelves. By now, the room had filled completely, and I spotted familiar faces from the media, too many to mention, but one of my personal heroes, George Alagiah was there, beaming out his own personal brand of decent bloke. Ellie cautioned me not to photo bomb him, and tempting though it was, I smiled warmly at him instead and swayed a little instead.
Later, I managed to catch Sian for an inscription in my copy of Rise. She introduced us to her son Alex, and her parents, making their goodbyes like any other family. We left with a smile on our faces and headed back to our trains, one to Nottingham, and one to Norwich.
I asked Ellie to write a few words about the evening from her perspective, and this is what she said.
“When mum told me she had been interviewed for a book, I 'believed' her. I believed her to the extent that I knew she was being truthful, but also didn't fully appreciate the extent to which she would be included in the book. So to then read her name, in print, in Sian Williams' 'Rise' I came to realise just how remarkable my Mum was.
There aren’t many people that single handedly begin a start-up business, (in a virtually impossible market might I add) whilst contributing to projects like this in her tea breaks. She's got balls as well; I knew the struggle she'd had with cancer, bras, and life in general after her illness, but to tell a high profile journalist, knowing where her story would ultimately end up? That's bloody brave.”
Ellie gobbled up chapter 17 whilst we were there at Daunt Books; her message came through between signal patches on the journey home. Loved it.
Thank you Sian, and love you Ellie and Rebecca xx