The Inspiration Behind If Kisses Cured Cancer
They say your best work comes when you write what you know. So, when it came to penning my latest book, I made the decision to weave in two things I have lived and breathed for quite some time. The first is what it's like to love someone who has a terminal illness. Those raw ups and downs and intimate emotions that hammer through your body - the fear and anxiety, but also the deep sense of closeness and connection. The second is what it's like to grow up in a small coastal town. I've spent my entire life living in different beach havens, from Mount Maunganui in New Zealand, to Torquay and Dunsborough in Australia. Each of these places have their different peculiarities, but what's more striking is how similar they are in certain ways. This article gives a behind the scenes look at some of the ways I've threaded each theme throughout If Kisses Cured Cancer.
Being In Love With Someone Who Has Cancer
It's tough loving someone who might die at any time. Harder still for the actual person. That's the most succinct way I can put it. But, obviously, there is so much more nuance to a relationship with someone who is battling this disease. I've written about the experience here, here, here, here, here and here and still haven't been able to properly articulate things. Fiction has the benefit of being able to explore the topic more broadly, using specifics of course, but also working through scenarios that I haven't had to go through personally, yet have seen variations of with friends.
The thing that I've found most striking throughout the last decade isn't the hardship you go through either. It doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to think about how you'd feel if your partner was diagnosed with the big C. It's more about the strange silver linings - like how the important things in life come into laser-sharp focus, how you become more determined than ever to lead a life you're excited about, or how you forgive each other a thousand little things that before would have pissed you off no end. There are also the random things you think day-to-day that you'd never say aloud, but somehow feel okay to put into a fiction book under the 'disguise' of a character's ravings...
And then there are the thoughts about the afterlife. If you've read any of my other books, it would be no surprise that I've given a lot of imaginative thought to Heaven and Hell. But, when thinking about it really seriously, it's a hard thing to grasp. A big part of me thinks that when you die that's it. It's just over. But that's a really hard concept to come to terms with, mostly because you just can't imagine what it would be like not to feel. Not even picturing it as a neverending sleep does the idea any justice for me.
So, you'll find a few wonderings scattered through the book, that I hope are interesting and spark a chain of contemplation in your own quiet moments. I firmly believe that thinking about and confronting the idea of death is very, very good for the soul. It helps you live with more intention. There are other things too, but it would take a whole book to explain, and you're better off reading about it a novel aimed at entertainment than a ridiculous 90,000-word blog post.
Which brings me to the other key part of inspiration for If Kisses Cured Cancer...
GROWING UP IN A SMALL COASTAL TOWN
It's like I've spent my life moving from big towns to small towns, that then get too big to be called small any more. They've all gone through the growth process of being quaint tourist destinations, to places that are packed with people year round. And, while each one is unique in its own way, there are characters and patterns you see everywhere. All of the locals have a love/hate relationship with the 'touros' who fuel the economy of their hamlet. Everywhere has an old woman or man that has the best rose garden in town. Everywhere has a fish n chippery that's packed on Friday nights. Everywhere has an old tip, or swampland, or dusty old farm that has been converted into the hottest new estate development in town. Everywhere has a pub that started out serving fisherman's baskets and chicken parmas, then eventually turned to making fancy dishes like 'lamb-shank medley with red-wine jus'. (What the fuck is 'jus' anyway? Just call it sauce and dispense with the pretense).
The town in If Kisses Cured Cancer is called Ocean Heads. Those from the Surfcoast in Victoria will quite easily spot the name as an amalgamation of Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads, which are both just down the coast from Torquay. The blend is my way of saying "this isn't Torquay". It's not any one town. It's a mix of many and it's own special place in one. Of course, if you read closely you'll find a few corners with striking similarities to my old stomping grounds. The cover image was even taken around the corner from my parent's house at Bird Rock.
If you'd like to dive into the world of Ocean Heads and get an inside look at the relationship between locals Matt and Joy, you can preorder your own copy on Amazon here.