Books

'One Minute Later' has changed people's minds about organ donation

When Susan Lewis was confronted with the reality of life waiting for a heart transplant, she decided her next novel would tackle the issue head on

The question writers are asked most often is ‘Where do your ideas come from?’ In the case of my latest book One Minute Later, it was my stepson’s friend, Jim Lynskey, aged 22, who provided the most remarkable and compelling inspiration.

Jim lives in the Midlands, is mad about football, loves music and has the same sort of big plans for his future as any other young man his age. What’s different about Jim is that he will be unable to achieve his dreams unless he finds a new heart.

The heart Jim has can only function with the support of an LVAD – left ventricular assist device. This means he is permanently connected to a pump and its batteries, which he carries around with him, but of course it imposes many restrictions.

There are currently 6,000 people on the organ transplant waiting list, and around 400 are likely to die before a suitable organ can be found.

Although One Minute Later isn’t Jim’s story – it’s about a young woman whose life is changed forever by the sudden need for a new heart – Jim does feature as himself in the book. Being the incredible young man he is, instead of simply sitting back and waiting or praying for a new heart to be found, he set up a campaign called Save9Lives (save9lives.com) which the characters in my novel also become involved in.

It’s the first time I’ve weaved fact and fiction like this, and from the responses I’ve already received it seems to have worked well. I’ve been very moved by those who’ve got in touch to say they’ve always resisted being a donor but the
book has changed their minds.

Getting to know Jim has had a profound and lasting effect on me, and those who’ve heard him speak on TV and radio find themselves equally moved by his eloquence and courage. He’s highly amused by the idea of being a character in a book.  His presence in the story and of course his input have given it, I believe, a far greater sense of reality than fiction can normally achieve.

It’s not all about waiting for a new heart, however. There are many other elements to it, including the search for an absent father, a murder mystery, a forbidden love story and sheep farming! Yes, really, sheep farming.

This is my 45th novel to be published and probably the one I’m proudest of. It seems to have made a difference to people’s thinking and understanding of the incredibly important issue of organ donation, something we can all sign up to without any sort of financial commitment.

Next year, thanks to the passing of Max and Keira’s Law, England will join Wales in becoming an opt-out nation, meaning we will all be donors unless, as an individual, we make a conscious decision not to be a part of the scheme. For those who are happy with the new law it is still very important to let your loved ones know that you wish to be a donor, because they will still be able to overrule the system in the event of a sudden death.

Having introduced you to the remarkable Jim I feel rather embarrassed about now trying to acquaint you with someone as ordinary as me. I grew up on a council housing estate in Bristol, tragically lost my mother to cancer at the age of nine, and was the kind of teenage rebel my dad really didn’t deserve. My life could so easily have gone down a different path leading to drugs, crime and poverty, but by some miracle I found a job in TV and moved to London at the age
of 22.

I worked in news, current affairs and comedy, but mostly I was in drama, which was where I unwittingly did my training as a writer.  My first book A Class Apart was published when I was 28 and by the time I was 33 I had become a full-time writer living in the south of France. From there I moved to Los Angeles where I spent the next seven years living amongst the stars before returning to France.

I didn’t marry or have children during that time, but I was always writing. It wasn’t until I was 50 that I met the right man for me, and a couple of years later I returned to the UK. James and I are now married and living in Gloucestershire. I have two fabulous stepsons who are now making their own ways in the world, and two over-indulged dogs who rule the home.

I write about issues which affect me deeply. Recently that’s been the growing number of homeless people in our towns and cities. This – and the number of families driven into poverty by Universal Credit –
is what has inspired my next book, Home Truths.

susanlewis

One Minute Later by Susan Lewis is out now (HarperCollins, £12.99)

Illustration: Joseph Joyce

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