Back in January I decided to go to my local children’s bookshop to see if they had my new book in stock. Maybe I could sign their copies? Luckily I managed to park just a few yards from their door.
But as soon as I got out of the car I was in agony. My knee was a mass of shrieking nerves. I could hardly walk the few steps to the shop door. I had to hold onto the windows of the neighbouring shops and hop (so determined was I to see my book on the shelves that I didn’t consider giving up).
Once in the shop I was in so much pain that the kind staff had to get me a chair, and, once I’d signed their stock and bought a copy for my uncle, the owner insisted on accompanying me back to my car, which I could drive, fortunately, because it was my left knee and it is an automatic car.
Just under four months later, I am recovering from an operation on a badly torn cartilage. I am suffering less pain every day, doing my physiotherapy exercises, and looking forward to being able to walk for more than 15 minutes at a time.
I wouldn’t say it’s been an entirely negative experience though. The enforced rest which comes after surgery or illness is an unusual experience in today’s busy world. It gave me a chance to reflect on my lifestyle, and how little time I spend away from computer or car. As I read, watched Masterchef and Game of Thrones, listened to music, or just snoozed, I found ideas for my current book blossomed in a way that doesn’t happen when I’m actively trying to focus.
Convalescence and illness are at the heart of some of my favourite children’s books. The long road to recovery for Katy after she fell off a swing in What Katy Did. The scary rocks with eyes in Catherine Storr’s Marianne Dreams. Harriet’s wobbly legs which need building up through ice-skating in Noel Streatfeild’s White Boots, Colin's mysterious illness in The Secret Garden. As a writer I get impatient when I have to nurse a character through an illness or injury, because it slows the book down – I can completely understand why Sally Green plumped for self-healing as a magical gift in her debut Half Bad. But as a reader, as a child, I loved these stories of rest and recovery.
Nowadays some of our most successful children's books are about illness, disability, mental illness and accidents requiring intensive care. Books such as John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and R J Palacio's Wonder have won prizes and become best sellers.
Am I right to think that today's medical dramas are more dramatic than the tales of slow healing from the past? They are more likely to be about death and prejudice, than fresh air and gentle exercise. Are there modern books about overcoming the tedium of not being able to do very much for a while?
My dodgy knee has made me rethink my plans for a study in my house. I have decided to do without a desk and laptop in the room earmarked for me. I have other places where I can go to write - cafes, tables, other people’s houses. The internet is constantly entertaining and informative, and endlessly distracting. What I need is a room with no screens. A place for reading and listening to music. A space to shut out the busy-ness of work and family, to let ideas and characters develop. Somewhere for dreaming, resting, creative thinking. A place to slow down and think.
At the moment this room is full of boxes, and needs redecorating thanks to a leaking roof. But when it’s complete, I promise to report back and tell you if it works for me as I hope.