When I returned to work after having my little girl, people told me how much they admired me. I was juggling work, being a parent and writing novels in my spare time. And yet I seemed so calm, they said, so smiley, so together.
But the truth was, I was walking a fine line, tiptoeing carefully along the 'working mother' and 'novelist' rope, managing to keep it all together... just. But deep down, I knew if one more thing was thrown at me, I'd fall.
And fall I did. But not for reasons you'd expect. No big crisis. In fact, something great happened. One of the novels I'd written, My Sister's Secret, hit the Kindle no. one spot. All my dreams were coming true!
So while everyone rejoiced, I pretended to join in with them while everything started falling apart. All the extra attention of being a 'bestseller' meant more pressure, even if it was the kind of pressure I'd always dreamed of. I had to write a new book, quickly, to capitalise on the success. So I squeezed words out in-between my office job, looking after my toddler, and all the other stuff that comes with life: cleaning the house, cooking, seeing friends, shopping... the list goes on. My husband was a star, my family incredibly supportive.
But it wasn't working. The house grew chaotic. I forgot little things, like ordering my daughter a uniform for her nursery. I was getting dates mixed up when it came to meeting up with people, and I was forgetting crucial items on the weekly shopping list. Small things but they mounted up.
Then I had a health scare. After getting stomach pains, my GP referred me for tests. The levels came back too high, suggesting a risk of ovarian cancer. A scan was ordered and to my utter relief, the results showed I didn't have cancer. But my GP told me I was making myself ill, the stomach pain my body's way of telling me to slow down.
I started reassessing my life. The success of my writing combined with being a working mother had tipped the balance for me. I realised I had a certain amount of bandwidth as a working mum, and I'd run out. Some mums may have run out way before me, others farther down the road. But I was beginning to understand my bandwidth and the message was clear: I couldn't have it all. I was going to have to re-prioritise and drop a few of those juggling balls. But what should I drop?
Even as a bestselling author, I still wasn't making enough money to give up the office job. So I began to consider taking my foot off the accelerator on something I adored - my writing. But then a life boat came my way in the form of several foreign publishing deals and a new two-book deal with my publisher, HarperCollins. With this extra income, I realised I could give up the office job, even for just a year or two.
So now here I am, sitting in my new office at home awaiting the release of my new novel, No Turning Back. I still see myself as a 'working mum', I spend three to four days earning my keep by writing and freelancing. But the fact I'm at home means I can do little things without interruption, like put the washing in, make phone calls, easily be there for my daughter if she's ill. I feel healthier, less stressed, happier. I have more bandwidth. And the key to my newfound health and happiness? Realising I couldn't do and be everything to everyone.