As Blue Door Press is about to publish HIDDEN, Annabel Chown explains how serious illness led her to write this page-turner memoir
I was thirty-one years old, and wanted to write. Except I had no clue as to what I might write. Plus, working sixty hour weeks as an architect, no time in which to write.
Then on a beautiful May morning in 2002, I was told I had breast cancer. ‘You’ll need chemotherapy and radiotherapy,’ the oncologist informed me. ‘Have chemo on a Friday, spend the weekend recovering, then you can go back to work on a Monday. It doesn’t waste too much time that way.’ No, a voice inside me said, visualising myself at my office desk at 10pm. If I get better, I’ve got the rest of my life to work hard.
Suddenly, I had space, time, and subject matter. Cancer was a harsh place to land in, but also an interesting one, so far removed from my day-to-day reality of site meetings, construction drawings, rushed trips to the gym, and Saturday night parties. Every third Thursday morning was now spent in a high-ceilinged Georgian room, a sac of ruby red Epirubicin dripping into my vein. Out on a date, I’d be terrified the man I fancied would notice I was wearing a wig. ‘You’ve lost weight,’ people who didn’t know would say. ‘You look amazing.’ And I’d keep quiet about the twenty-plus times I’d thrown up after my last chemo.
Cancer was the worst thing that had happened to me. But I was determined to create something good out of something ugly. Could it be a doorway into writing a book? I had no idea how to start. Initial attempts consisted of me simply typing up my journal entries! On the advice of the brilliant therapist I’d started seeing, I was scribbling most mornings. With time, a structure very gradually evolved. A couple of years after I started writing, I was invited to join a writers’ group. The other women were mostly published authors. I was terrified. But it proved to be one of the best things I’ve ever done, and helped me to create a full-length memoir.
My story is told through the lens of a single person, who still hoped to find love, despite feeling like damaged goods. It’s also told through the eyes of an architect, and a lover of London, which becomes almost like an additional character in the narrative.
Eighteen years after my diagnosis, I remain cancer free. I’ll never forget the terror of it, the fear I was going to die young. I hope my story can offer hope and inspiration to those who find themselves somewhere similar, as well as offer insight into what it’s like to go through such a life-changing experience; one that forced me to confront the darkness, but also brought in surprising bursts of light and opportunity.