I had the pleasure of asking Alice Peterson all about her new novel By My Side which is out today, July 18th. Find out what we got chatting about here.
At the age of eighteen Alice had been awarded a tennis scholarship to America when she experienced pain in her right hand. It was rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and she hasn’t picked up a tennis racket since, a sadness that shall always be with her. The theme of disability features in her fiction, but there is nothing gloomy about Alice or her work. Rather this gives her fiction the added dimension of true poignancy.
Her latest novel, ‘By My Side’, is published by Quercus, both as an eBook and paperback.
1. How did Cass’s story start? What was your inspiration?
I saw a photograph in a weekend magazine, of a Canine Partner golden Labrador helping a woman in a wheelchair take her washing out of the machine. When I read the story of how this dog had transformed her life I knew I had to write about them in some way, especially since I’m a big dog lover, so I set to work researching…
2. How did you go about researching for By My Side and was it a long process?
The research took months and is really ongoing, throughout the writing process. Firstly, I contacted the charity Canine Partners, to ask if I could watch some puppy training days (think bouncy puppies opening pedal bins and doors – just adorable!). I was also put in touch with many partnerships, including Jon Flint, an ex Royal Marine, who returned injured from Afghanistan, and found a real friend in Varick. I then plotted a story of a young woman, Cass, in her early 20s who thinks her life is over when she has a car accident leaving her unable to walk. She has lost has passion to be a doctor, her boyfriend deserts her, she has to move back home with her parents… but then everything changes when her mother takes her, in secret, to Canine Partners and she meets the most loyal Labrador called Ticket. Ticket opens all kinds of doors and Cass is soon skiing in Colorado, where she falls in love with her ski instructor. I had to do more research with a charity called Back Up, who support those with spinal cord injury and organise these skiing courses. The research was eye opening for me; I learned so much and also met the most incredible people.
3. Do you think that anyone who reads this book will maybe change their perception of people with disabilities?
Possibly. One scene that has made an impression is the scene when a woman parks her Mercedes in a blue badge spot because she’s in a hurry to get to M&S. She won’t take long – no one will ever know. Little does she realise that Cass and her friend Guy are waiting for her to return to ask her why she pinched their space. I hope, above all, readers will simply enjoy the story and the romance, but if they do understand a little more what it is like to have a disability, then that is great.
4. The two charities mentioned in By My Side, Canine Partners and Back Up are real charities, what made you mention them rather make up fictitious ones?
I think both charities are so amazing that it didn’t make sense to make up the names. I’m glad I didn’t as one of the proofreaders at Quercus decided she wanted to explore being a puppy parent and many other readers have wanted to support both Back Up and Canine Partners, which is fabulous.
5. What did you edit out of the book?
Oh, that’s a good question! Instead of medicine Cass’s initial passion was riding, but I took that out as in the end I wanted Cass to be a little older i.e. in her 20s. It just worked better her being at college. Riding could have made it too YA. Other than that I kept it much the same, especially with the love story, but the editing process is never-ending…
6. This is the third book that you have written with Disabilities playing a part, is there a reason for this?
I have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), something I was diagnosed with when I was 18 and on the verge of signing a tennis scholarship to America. Overnight my life changed in every way, and I’ve been through pain, loss and heartbreak but, with the support of friends and family, I have rebuilt my life. My own experiences have definitely influenced my writing. In Monday to Friday Man, Gilly’s little sister, Megan has a disability; in Letters From My Sister, a story of two sisters, one of them, Bells, the star of the novel, is born with learning difficulties. I’ve always wanted to give people with disability a voice or somehow thread the theme into my work because it means a lot to me. I want to write about people who are different, with compassion and humour.
7. When you aren’t busy writing what are you reading?
I belong to a book club which is great as we choose a variety of books. I am currently reading The Light Between Oceans, by M L Stedman. Before that it was Khaled Hosseini’s latest, and before that Jojo Moyes, The Girl You Left Behind. Jojo Moyes is one of my favourites and I’ve been so flattered when people have compared By My Side to Me Before You.
8. Of all your books do you have one you are most proud of?
Possibly By My Side – it’s been the longest ‘journey’ – sorry, such a cliché, but it really has!
9. Describe your book in 3 words?
Romantic funny & emotional.
10. What’s next for you?
A book about love, betrayal and addiction…
To find out more about Alice vist her website here:
For a copy of By My Side which is released today, July 18th, you can do so here:
I’d like to say a massive thank you to Alice for taking the time to answer my questions. You can check out my review of By My Side here: