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Ria Frances not only wrote a novel while she was up at night feeding her premature identical twins, but she didn’t tell anyone in her family until it was ready for publication.
Now it has been published and it is on the curriculum of two of her local schools.
Ria, a former head of English at a primary school, had her twins eight weeks early in 2009. They weighed just four pounds when they were born and were in special care for around a month. After that they were in and out of hospital with viruses and food intolerances. At one point the twins stopped breathing. “It was an anxious time. It was quite impossible for me to sleep,” says Ria.
She had a bed in the hospital room and she used the time to research her book. She had seen a history programme about how Albert Goering – Hermann Goering’s brother – rescued Jews during the Second World War. That prompted her to research on the internet and order books on the subject which she read on her Kindle while breastfeeding her babies.
“It kept my mind focused rather than thinking about all the worry,” she says. After a previous pregnancy – Ria has two older children – she had suffered from post-natal depression and she thought writing would be cathartic. “It was something to lose myself in rather than being constantly caught up in worry,” she says. “It would have been very easy to go under. I felt very guilty that they were born early, even though it was something I couldn’t control and I put that sense of guilt into the book.”
Ria reckons that for the first six months she got only around two hours sleep a night. She started writing the novel while the babies were still in hospital and had a notepad with her the whole time to jot down ideas. She continued to do so at home, typing on her laptop with a baby in her arms. The parts featuring the main character, a Jewish girl who gets incarcerated in the ghetto of Theresienstadt, are virtually as written at that time.
Her book, Inflicted, tells the story of Anna Levinsky who relates her story of life under the Nazis to Theo, a teenager living in 21st century Britain who feels submerged by guilt about the death of his baby sister. The book, particularly the parts about Anna, is vividly written and shows the attention of its writer, a history and English graduate with a keen interest in World War Two, to historical detail. Ria says she was interested in exploring the resilience of people in Anna’s situation. “Often women have more strength than they think they do,” she says.
Asked how she managed to write while being constantly interrupted for feeds every two hours, Ria says she is not sure. However, she adds that a friend told her her lack of sleep may have opened up a more creative part of her brain. Even now she still suffers from insomnia and is working on a new novel on World War One, often in the middle of the night.
She had self published a children’s book about mermaids before Inflicted – she finished it the day she went into labour with the twins – but Inflicted is her first book for adults. Ria, who lives on a farm in Sussex, had given up her work as a teacher after having her second son, Charlie, who is now nine. Her oldest son, Oliver, from a previous relationship, is 15. Anna’s name – Levinsky is based on that of his paternal grandfather – a Russian Jew who fled to the UK. Since leaving her school, Ria has been working for her husband’s IT firm and giving private tuition.
Having written Inflicted, Ria spent a long time editing the text, rewriting in particular the parts about the teenager Theo. She originally had three different endings. She sent the book off to three agents. One asked to have it on an exclusive basis and gave her lots of tips, but then got pregnant so was not able to represent her. She contacted the publisher Britain’s Next Bestseller and they were keen to publish it.
It was not until the book was accepted by Britain’s Next Bestseller that Ria told her family she had written the book. Not even her husband knew. “I didn’t know it was good enough,” she says. As part of the deal with BNB she had to get at least 250 people to agree to pre-order the book. She mounted a campaign, using social media, creating a Youtube video and going into schools and managed to get 286 people to sign up. The book came out in September.
Since then she has done a lot of school visits and the book is on the English curriculum of two local schools. In addition to getting people to read the book, Ria says one of her aims is to inspire people. “Often we stop ourselves from doing things we want to do,” she says. “We are full of self doubt. I want to show people you can pursue your dream.”
*Inflicted is published by Britain’s Next Bestseller.