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  • [SWP: Behind the Book] A Mother-Daughter Book: From Challenges to Possibility
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[SWP: Behind the Book] A Mother-Daughter Book: From Challenges to Possibility
Written by
Irene Allison
August 2018
Written by
Irene Allison
August 2018

My mother and I wrote a book together. No small feat for a mother and a daughter. But we are kindred spirits and we wanted to write a book about the need to revive the art of care in medicine.

My mother, a feisty Scottish nurse and medical social worker, understands the complexity of patient suffering. She was an early pioneer in palliative care and dedicated her life to advocating for patients and families.

So it seemed only natural to combine her expertise with my writing skills to collaborate on a book.

What could be easier?

With enthusiasm and unbreakable conviction, we threw ourselves into the task at hand.

And just as quickly, challenges appeared.

Challenge #1: Two writers ... double the trouble?

For a number of years we discussed our topic. So surely we had a common understanding of the vision, scope, content, and tone of the project?

Early drafts proved just the opposite.

It was a rocky start.

And it forced us to translate our individual mental pictures directly onto the page and into a clearer, stronger vision.

Finally, and with newfound clarity, we were both headed in the same direction.

We wrote back and forth. We quibbled, agreed, cut, blended, laughed, and sometimes got so frustrated that if it hadn't been for the same affectionate blood running through our veins, the same gut-conviction, we might never have survived the process.

But survive we did.

Our writing collaboration was fruitful and creative ...

... and more than double the trouble as we shredded draft after draft.

But as all writers know, the key to writing is not the writing; it's the rewriting that allows the heart of a book to plop out whole and beating.

Once we found the heartbeat of our book, we knew we were on track.

Soon came time for pitching.

Challenge #2: Scary topics.

We landed an agent. She was moved, engaged, and very keen because she saw the importance of championing the ill and reducing patient suffering.

There was just one problem.

As much as she loved the message of our book (and after six months of trying), she didn't know how to talk about it to others. She had no direct personal experience, nor medical training, so she came up cold when talking about its "scary topics".

She had tried her best. She was sorry.

We understood because when it comes to serious illness, when grief and suffering stand like sentries at the boundaries of life, ours is a society that prefers to stay silent. Even medical literature has little to say.

Yet this is an issue that affects us all, especially when we hand over "care" to a medical system, so blinded by aggressive technology, it often forgets its humanity.

Scary topics indeed.

But we refused to give up. Instead, we decided to pitch directly to publishers.

And we got a hit.

The senior editor of a British publisher called to say, "We'll publish your book!" the tone of conviction ringing through her voice.

Her excitement rubbed off.

Here was a publisher with oomph and smarts. All we had to do was hand over the manuscript and they'd take care of the rest. Easy. We were in good hands.

Except we weren't.

Three months later, the marketing team at the publishing house nixed the senior editor's plan. They preferred a book on business to a book on care.

The senior editor called to apologize, her voice subdued as she retracted the original offer.

Apparently, this is the sort thing that can happen in traditional publishing.

Still, with every no, we believed that surely sometime we'd get a yes.

Challenge #3: Life takes precedence.

Our conviction hung tight but fatigue settled in. So many pitches, letters, phone calls. Two steps forward, two steps back. We got tired knocking on doors that didn't open. We were going in circles. Or so it felt.

So we put the book on the backburner, got busy with life, got busy caregiving for loved ones who were critically ill. And that was all that mattered.

But during this break away from our book, things started to change:

  1. The world of publishing exploded, providing authors with choice and possibility.
  2. The silence around serious illness, dying, and grief began to lift as more and more discussion entered the public space.
  3. Doctors, nurses, and the public started raising their voices to call for greater compassion.

The world was changing.

And suddenly our book found its way.


* * *
Stay, Breathe with Me: The Gift of Compassionate Medicine
by Helen Allison and Irene Allison
will be released by She Writes Press, June 2016



* This post was originally published in December 2015.

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  • Irene Allison

    Thank you, Michelle. Yes, truly, it has been a labour of love! And since you mentioned that word "journey" ... indeed, as they say, "it's not the destination, but the journey that counts"!

    For all of us writers, we're certainly on quite a journey! 

    All the best to you too, I know you're working on a wonderful series and I can't wait to read it!

  • Michelle Cox

    Beautiful post, Irene!  I don't think I could have done this with my mother!  It sounds like your book is very much needed in the world, and I'm glad you persevered to see it born.  It's a long, arduous journey, but exciting just the same.  Congrats to you!

  • Irene Allison

    Thank you, Patricia! I've just had a look at your books - wow! - I can see that you are an inspiration to all of us! It is so wonderful that writers have options today that weren't available before. And that is wonderful for readers too! And yes ... we still have to persevere ... but when it's a labour of love, it's worth it! All the best!

  • Patricia Robertson

    Wonderful story of perseverance. I know the pain of having been told your book was accepted for publication and then having that acceptance withdrawn. Very frustrating. That's why I moved into indie publishing - not looking back! :)

  • Irene Allison

    Thanks Lene. It has been quite a journey, a labour of love for sure! And I am happy that your book has found its wings! And is soaring! It's interesting how paths and themes converge in interesting ways and how as writers we can learn so much from one another. Thank you!

  • Lene Fogelberg Writing

    Thank you Irene for your perseverance in this crucial project! I look forward to this important book on such a compelling subject as the art of care in medicine. I am so happy you found a home for your project with She Writes Press. Having just published there myself I am very impressed by them.