Tell us a bit about yourself
Getting to know you:
My name is Josie Lloyd and I’m an author based in Brighton. I’m 51 and a mum to three girls, aged 20, 17 and 14 and happily married to Emlyn Rees, who I met when we wrote a novel together back in 1999 called Come Together. We’ve since written 6 more novels together and lots of parodies of our favourite children’s books, including We’re Going On A Bar Hunt, The Very Hungover Caterpillar and The Teenager Who Came to Tea. I’m a full-time author, writing as Joanna Rees and Josie Lloyd and I like running and swimming in the sea.
I wake early and quite often I get up and write my 1000 words in my dressing gown before I’ve done anything else. Whatever happens, I always do a qi gong practise for 15 minutes outside my study door – also in my dressing gown (the kids think I’m really eccentric!). I got into qi gong, which is like Chinese yoga after going through breast cancer treatment. One of the things that shocked me most is that I’d got cancer on my watch. I realised that I wasn’t really in the habit of checking in with myself, so now I do a daily routine which is very meditative and mindful. It’s about marrying the breath, the mind and the movement and checking in and setting a positive intention for the day. At about half eight, Emlyn and I walk the dog along the seafront, or go for a run in the downs and then I sit down and write. Emlyn and I have been working at home together for over 20 years, so lockdown was just normal for us! We work in separate studies but meet for cups of tea and a natter during the day. I often go with a gang of women to swim in the sea at lunchtime, which I love. We swim all year round. Even in the snow. When the kids come back from school, I hang out with them for a bit and walk the dog again. We’re always talking about what we’re planning to eat for supper. Emlyn and I love cooking, so our family meal in the evening is always a highlight of the day.
I love cooking and entertaining friends, as well as going to restaurants. We’re really lucky where we live as Brighton has amazing places to eat. I love films and binge-watching shows and reading, of course. I always have at least three books on the go. I also love singing and playing the piano. I play duets with my friend and I’m always the first to kick off the kitchen disco. My sea swimming is a big thing for me.
There’s always a massive to-do list, mainly involving getting around to sorting out various bits of the house – the promised loft clear-out and decorating the bathroom. I have missed travelling and in particular going to our house in Mallorca. We usually decamp there for the summer, but it hasn’t been possible in lock down. I’m finishing my next book about sea swimming which will be out next year and I’m hoping to write another book with Emlyn, so it’s busy on the work front. I’m never one for planning too far in advance. Every time I’ve booked a big holiday in the last five years, it’s had to be cancelled for one reason or another, so I don’t tend to plan ahead, but enjoy the day to day.
I do a qi gong routine every morning without fail. Also, I can play any tune on the recorder (after a glass of wine or two!)
That’s a hard one. I have written lots of books, but I’d say my relationship with Emlyn and all we’ve achieved together is the thing that means the most.
Funny, kind, energetic.
The same as normal – writing books. It’s been slightly harder without being able go out to the pub when we get ‘cabin fever’. I’ve also done all the clichés like making sourdough bread, growing tomatoes and learning Spanish on Duolingo. Our eldest daughter was home from Uni, so actually, for me as a Mum, having all my girls around was a bit of a blessing. I know lockdown was really hard for a lot of people, but we were lucky enough to all stay well and we had a lovely time together.
You are about to launch your newest book ‘The Cancer Ladies’ Running Club’ – tell us a bit more about this.
This book came about because in 2017 I was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine scan and it came as a terrible shock. I hated feeling labelled as a cancer victim, as if everything that defined me had been swept away in a heartbeat. Help came in the form of a running club, when Ros, a mum at the school gates and a fitness instructor suggested that I join her group of women who were all going through cancer treatment. As soon as I met them, I knew I’d found my tribe.
After the whole thing was over and I was restored back to health, I really wanted to write a book – a novel – about what it feels like to be diagnosed with breast cancer and how a diagnosis can affect a person and that’s when Keira’s story and The Cancer Ladies’ Running Club was born.
It’s a positive and uplifting tale featuring women, who, like me are not just surviving cancer, but positively thriving on the other side. It’s a novel that tells the truth, but also hopefully does some debunking about this subject that affects us all. Most of all though, it’s a novel about the power of friendship.
When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
Your diagnosis and surgery:
I was so incredibly lucky to be called up for a voluntary mammogram as part of a pilot programme to test women under 50 in December 2016. I was diagnosed formally after my second scan in January 2017
I was 47
A full mastectomy on the left side followed by 6 rounds of chemo and a month of radiotherapy.
I had begged the radiologist to tell me what she could see when she was scanning me for the biopsy. She told me that she couldn’t tell me until the tests came back, but I said I’d rather know - and she told me she thought it was cancer. I’d asked for it, of course, but leaving a writer with an over-active imagination with the word ‘cancer’ wasn’t great. For a whole week, I could hardly sleep and had convinced myself I was going to die, so by the time the actual diagnosis of grade 2 lobular breast cancer came at my next appointment, I was actually relieved. My biggest fear was not being around to see my kids growing up, but I quickly realised that my breast cancer diagnosis was not the worst thing that could happen to me. It hadn’t happened when I was trying to breast feed my babies and it hadn’t happened to one of my kids. I knew it was going to be tough, but that I would get through it.
My husband, Emlyn was the first person I called and he had my back throughout. He was my total rock. My sister, Catherine was also amazing.
Yes, my friends – my old friends, who were there for me and treated me as me, but also my new running friends. I felt they really understood what I was going through and how I felt. One of the things I found was that people expected me to be really serious, but my instinct was to laugh about it. I liked the gallows humour I shared with the running girls. They didn’t take it too seriously and made me feel normal.
That you will get better and that you will feel fantastic on the other side and to keep hopeful. There’s so much fear around cancer and the idea that it might come back, but it’s important, once you’ve been given the all-clear, to choose to be well and to not let the spectre of cancer rule your life. To be very honest, I actually don’t think a mid-life shake up was a bad thing for me. I am living my life in a much more mindful and happy way now.
Yes, it’s the story that inspired my novel and is so close to my heart.
When I joined the running group, I went down one week and there was a reporter there from the local paper. ‘It’s so good you’re doing the Brighton marathon 10K,’ he said. ‘The what?’ I asked Ros, the leader, stunned. ‘Oh, didn’t I tell you, this is the training group?’ she said cheekily.
I didn’t think I could do it, but on a clear April day, I decided to give it a whirl and to run the race with my gang. It was just before my 3rd chemo and all my hair had fallen out. I was soon very hot and breathless and slowing down, but then all these runners kept running past me. ‘Keep going,’ one shouted. ‘I’m clear five years.’ Then a woman in a Cancer Research vest, called, ‘I’m clear three years! Keep going.’
On and on the messages came, spurring me on and I felt so inspired and supported. And then this one runner ran beside me. She was the picture of health and told me that she’d run all through her treatment and to keep going.
To my surprise, she’d waited for me on the last turn of the race. She told me to stop and said she wanted to tell me something. We walked together for a bit and she said that when she’d been going through her treatment and had been at her lowest ebb, she’d been in the hospital café and a woman had come over to her and said she knew exactly how she felt. This woman had said not to give up hope that her life would be better than ever the other side of cancer. She’d then taken off the pretty little butterfly pendant necklace she’d been wearing and given it to the runner telling her it was a ‘little butterfly of hope’.
The runner told me that she’d been wearing the necklace for three years and it was now time to pass it on. She it off and put it around my neck and told me it was now my little ‘butterfly of hope’ and not to give up. We had a hug and a few tears and then she was off. I didn’t ever find out her name.
I’ve worn my little butterfly necklace every day since – a little talisman to remind me of that extraordinary life-affirming moment. And one day soon, I hope to pass it on too. In the meantime, I’m delighted that my friend Alice, who runs the jeweller Posh Totty Designs has made a little ‘butterfly of hope’ necklace inspired by my story and necklace and they’re now available for people to buy, with the proceeds going to charity.
Always wear clothes that make you feel good. Buy dresses and tops that flatter your shape and throw out everything that reminds you of going through cancer treatment, especially all your old underwear. Embrace the new you.
Be kind to yourself and love the skin you’re in. Be proud of your battle scars and celebrate what an amazing thing your body is, with its astonishing capacity for healing.
You and Nicola Jane:
How Has Wearing Nicola Jane Lingerie Made You Feel/ What Do You Like About Nicola Jane?
The most depressing thing about getting breast cancer was feeling that I could never wear pretty underwear again. The first time I went into town to try and find a post-mastectomy bra, I came back crying. I didn’t want to wear a flesh-coloured monstrosity. I rang up Nicola Jane and the lady on the phone was so kind and so understanding and when the order came through, I was amazed by how pretty it was and well designed. I couldn’t tell it was any different to ‘normal’ underwear. I like the fact that the models in the catalogue are real people and the products are true to size and so well made. They last brilliantly.
The swimwear is amazing. Since I swim in the sea year-round and I’m always to be found rocking a Nicola Jane one piece! The fit is fantastic.