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From Breast Cancer Diagnosis to Publishing Deal: Single Bald Female by Laura Price

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Single Bald Female

By Laura Price

I moved to Dublin just after I found the lump in my breast in April 2012 – exactly 10 years ago. Having grown up in Yorkshire, I’d spent my twenties in London and South America, but from that day, Ireland became an important part of my life and my path to publication. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at St. Vincent’s Hospital in June of that year, when I was 29 years old – I’ll always remember the little windowless room I sat in, completely convinced I’d be back in the office within an hour, when they delivered the news. A decade on, I’m beyond grateful to still be here, happy, healthy and about to publish my first novel.

Single Bald Female was inspired by my experiences in Dublin. I returned to the UK to be close to my parents for much of my cancer treatment, but I had my radiotherapy back at St. Vincent’s so that I could resume my job at Facebook. In early 2013, I decided it was time I start dating again, and I weighed up the pros and cons of an honest dating profile – should I include a photo of me with long hair, pre-cancer, only for guys to be disappointed when they found out I was wearing a wig? Or should I go for the honest approach with my bald head, mentioning the fact that I might be infertile after chemo? I went for the latter, deciding if guys didn’t want to date me because I had cancer, then I wasn’t interested in them either. I met some genuinely good guys, and I wrote about the experience for The Huffington Post.

Back in London several years later, the idea for Single Bald Female was sparked by that article. On evenings and weekends in my shared flat in Bermondsey, I began creating a fictionalised version of my experiences with dating and cancer. In 2016, I entered the Date with an Agent competition at the International Literature Festival Dublin, and soon found myself back in Ireland across a desk from literary agent Simon Trewin. I was in luck. I had the slot right before break time, which meant the allotted 10 minutes could stretch to 20. Simon said he really liked my writing. But then he took one look at me and said: “You know, your character is slim with green eyes and brown hair. She sounds an awful lot like you.”

It was Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin who gave me permission to take the story away from my own, reimagining my character’s life, goals, relationships and back story. I created a new protagonist, Jess, who seems to be smashing it at life, with the glitzy job as a magazine editor, the perfect boyfriend and even the lovely flat. As her friends’ lives follow the script, with the big white weddings and the baby scans, Jess receives the double blow of breast cancer and a break-up, and her perfect life implodes. As I built this new world for my character, I found the more I wrote, the more freedom I felt, and the better the story became.

A year later, I was stalled again. My full-time job as a food writer, presenter and event curator had me travelling all over the world, making it was tough to commit to writing. I applied for the Faber Academy because I needed deadlines and peer pressure. What I hadn’t realised I needed until I got it was community. In the Faber Academy, I found a group of 15 people who would critique each other’s work with love and care. I had imagined the brutal writing school that Lena Dunham’s character attends in Girls, but it wasn’t like that at all. I learned about the business of publishing – how to get an agent, how to make money – but the best thing I gained was a writing group for life. Four years on, we still meet fortnightly over Zoom to critique each other’s work, and we have become close friends.

It took me two years after finishing the Faber Academy to submit to agents. Others raced ahead with their manuscripts, but mine wasn’t ready yet. When I finally had a completed first draft, I sent it to a friend and fellow writer, who provided me with positive but useful feedback. (If you’re going to share your writing with a friend, choose one who writes – they are much more likely to give you honest feedback).

I queried just five agents, three of whom offered to represent me, and I quickly signed with Sophie Lambert at C&W Agency, based on instinct and the passion she showed for my book and my characters. The next bit wasn’t so straightforward. Single Bald Female sold at pre-empt in Germany immediately, but the novel took longer to sell in the UK, receiving several ‘passes’ (read: rejections), albeit laced with glowing feedback. For the umpteenth time, I rewrote the book and, at the end of 2020, in full pandemic, I got my book deal with Jayne Osborne at Pan Macmillan, who, along with Sophie Lambert, has been the ultimate champion of my work. Single Bald Female hit German bookstores in February and is published in the UK and Ireland in April.

Like many authors, I went through plenty of rejection to get my first publishing deal, but in hindsight everything worked out as it was meant to. If I’d got a deal when I first pitched, Single Bald Female would have been published when bookshops were closed. Instead, my debut novel comes out as I celebrate my 40th birthday and the 10th anniversary since my cancer diagnosis. Somehow, everything worked out just as it should.

(c) Laura Price

Follow Laura on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook or discover more on her website.

About Single Bald Female:

Jessica Jackson has hit all the milestones for turning 30 – the career, the loving boyfriend and a cosy London flat they share with their cat. But a shock diagnosis of breast cancer turns Jess’s world upside down, and her contented life implodes with it.

Around her, her friends’ lives continue to follow the script, with the big white weddings and the baby scans. With her own future so uncertain, the only thing Jess is sure of is that she’s being left behind.

In the midst of it all, she meets Annabel, an enigmatic twenty-seven year old with incurable cancer. But while Annabel may not have long left, she understands much more about living than anyone Jess has ever met. And she’s determined to show Jess how to make every day count . . .

Frank, funny and poignant, Single Bald Female by Laura Price is a completely unforgettable story of love and friendship.

‘Whether you’ve experienced cancer, grief, the chaos of the contemporary dating scene or the agony of a modern hen weekend, every word of Single Bald Female rings true’ – Lauren Bravo

‘A triumph . . . I laughed and wept. It’s an extraordinary novel and one everyone should read’ – Alexandra Pottera

Pre-order your copy online here.

About the author

Laura Price is a multilingual journalist who travels the world writing about restaurants. A proud Yorkshire lass at heart, she spent several years in Latin America before settling in South London with her two cats. Her first novel, Single Bald Female, is inspired by her experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer at 29. (A former single bald female, Laura now has both hair and a boyfriend.)

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