It all started with a ridiculous name. I was out jogging, my mind wandering as I tried to distract myself from my knackered knees and aching hips. I was in no rush to come up with another story – I was still working on my previous novel, Alias – but the name came out of nowhere, and I remember laughing and wishing I had a pen so I could write it down.
You have to admit it has a nice ring to it. Somewhere on the home straight, I decided she could be England’s unluckiest paramedic, if I was ever minded to write a book about a paramedic, which at the time I absolutely wasn’t.
Skip forward a few months, and my wife and I are stuck in a fog-bound chalet in the Swiss Alps. I’m in a stinking mood, morose about the weather and the wasted days, and deep in the throes of my annual Post-Book Funk. This little-documented malady strikes whenever I finish writing a novel, and it usually involves terminal moping, the gnashing of teeth, and the utter conviction that I will never write anything good ever again, and anyway I have no ideas because I am rubbish. My wife is adept at riding this particular mood out, but being trapped in a small apartment with rain battering the windows made her less inclined toward hand-patting and “there-there”-ing than usual. She slapped a pen and a blank notepad on the table and told me in no uncertain terms to man the fuck up and come up with something, anything, to snap myself out of it.
So I made a brew, dropped a couple of marshmallows into her hot chocolate and told her about Jemima Pardon. You see, ever since that fateful jog, the name and concept had sort of taken root and I was having trouble thinking past it. I was coming to like the idea of writing something lighter, something funnier and, dare I say it, something that might actually be a romance.
Jem began to take shape that afternoon, acquiring a personality and background and quirks. She was a walker of small dogs, had chronic asthma, lodged with a Scottish bloke who baked pies for a living, and had once been ditched by a girlfriend at the train station in Milton Keynes. I wrote every detail down, no matter how small or stupid, and filled a few pages with character notes. It was a fun way to while away the hours, planning a story I’d probably never write because it was daft and as yet plot-less, and because I’d never wanted to do a paramedic story in case people thought it was a self-insert Mary Sue affair.
As often happens, the damn thing took on a life of its own regardless, and I found I couldn’t shake the character or the story. I wrote the first scene soon afterwards, introduced Jem to Rosie Jones, a slightly bonkers police officer, in a puddle on Barton Bridge, and away we all went.
A couple of years later, Breathe has a cover and a blurb and a September 1st release date. It’s sweet and funny in places, but – because I’m apparently incapable of writing pure fluff – there are dark edges to the tale and plenty of mayhem for those who like to blend their romances with suspense.
“It’s a pain in the arse,” Jem says about her name. “Everyone takes the piss.”
If I’m honest, I was taking the piss as well at first. The name was a joke. I just didn’t expect it to have an eighty-five-thousand-word punchline.