Leeds mum lands a dream book deal just days before husband diagnosed with a brain tumour

Mum of three Rosanna Boyle has just had her first novel published all while her husband battles a brain tumour and she suffers from arthritis. Catherine Scott reports.

Rosanna Boyle pictured at her home at Roundhay, Picture Simon Hulme
Rosanna Boyle pictured at her home at Roundhay, Picture Simon Hulme

Getting your first novel published is a challenge for anyone, but when you have three children, a debilitating illness and your husband is diagnosed with a brain tumour, the odds seem insurmountable.

But not for Leeds mother Rosanna Boyle from Roundhay.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Boyle, has just published her first novel, The Book of Baku, after a book deal with Titan. She’s represented by David Higham Associates who look after the likes of Bernard Cornwell, Stephen Fry and Jaqueline Wilson.

Rosanna Boyle pictured with her fist novel The Book of Baku. Picture Simon Hulme

But it has not been an easy ride for Boyle who studied Classical Civilisations at the University of Leeds and initially had aspirations to be a performer.

“I really wanted to be a singer but the only problem was I hated being on stage so that was never going to work out,” explains the mum of three.

“I did all sorts of jobs after leaving university but I always wanted to write.”

For the last six years she has battled with rheumatoid arthritis which has left her in constant pain.

Mum of three Rosanna Boyle who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis Picture Simon Hulme

“No one has any idea what caused it,” says Boyle.

“My youngest son was 18 months old and that was really difficult. I wasn’t able to lift him or even drive as my wrists were so swollen and sore.”

For more than four years she was a cocktail of drugs to try to get her condition under control.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. The condition usually affects the hands, feet and wrists.

Some people with rheumatoid arthritis also experience problems in other parts of the body, or more general symptoms such as tiredness and weight loss.

“Rheumatoid arthritis is systemic – it effects your whole body,” explains Boyle.

“It even effected my breathing, I was only able to take small, shallow breathes.”

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means the immune system (which usually fights infection) attacks the cells that line your joints by mistake, making the joints swollen, stiff and painful.

It meant for a while Boyle was unable to do the one thing she loved – write.

“I hated it when I couldn’t write. Some people need to exercise I need to write,” she says.

Eventually the doctors found some medication which seemed to help her and she was able to go back to her laptop.

Boyle says she has always had a love of writing but starting writing seriously when her second son was a few months old. She has three sons now aged 14, 12 and eight.

“My eldest two are quite close together and I think for my mental health I started to write a book.

“I thought I’d just take six months off, write a book, find an agent and get it published – that was 11 years ago.”

She admits looking back she was fairly naive about the publishing businesses.

“I had no idea. My book was 300,000 words and I realised that was more like three books in one. It took me eight years to write – and that was writing nearly everyday. And then I couldn’t get it published.”

In the end she had to admit defeat on her first book after it was rejected by all the publishers she submitted it to.

“I was really bereft for a while but then I realised that I just had to let go. Although my current agents thinks I might be able to rewrite my original book idea.”

But by then writing had become a way of life for Boyle and she couldn’t envisage her life with out it.

“I’d write four hours a day – normally in a cafe of coffee shop and then again in the evening after the kids had gone to bed. It was my life.”

She’d starting writing another book about a boy call Sean who ended up being the main character in Book of Baku.

“I was writing something else about Sean but then we took the children to Eureka the National Children’s Museum in Halifax. There was a Baku there which, although I’d studied classics at university, I didn’t know anything about.

“If you write down your dreams and put them in his mouth, then he will take your nightmares away,” says Boyle.

“It felt really quite sinister and creepy to me and it really started me thinking. I did some research and discovered that the Baku was a mythical creature and if you write down your nightmares and the feed them to the Baku and he is still hungry he will eat children’s hopes and dreams as well. And that gave me the idea for the book.”

The Book of Baku centres around teenager Sean, who has not spoken a word since he was taken into care. He is sent to live with his grandfather, a retired author.

But his grandfather has secrets of his own. As he retreats to the shed, half-buried in his treasured garden, Sean finds one of his stories about The Baku, a creature that eats the fears of children.

Plagued by nightmares, with darkness spreading through the house, Sean must finally face the truth if he is to have a chance to free himself and his grandfather from the grip of the Baku.

“I didn’t really have plan for the book or the characters. I knew Sean was mute then when I came across the Baku the stories just came together. In fact the ending was a complete surprise to me.”

The result is a haunting dark fantasy which is gaining praise from critics.

“I normally like to go out and write in cafes – I like the idea of having other human beings around me. If I try to write at home I end up doing jobs. It was difficult during lockdown as we were home educating and it was difficult to find the time or the peace to write and I didn’t want to miss out on what the family was doing. I ended up writing in the kitchen or in bed which isn’t great.”

But just as Boyle landed the book deal she had dreamt of, life took an unusual turn.

Last year her husband, an anaesthetist at the Leeds General Infirmary started to have seizures in bed and was rushed to hospital where he was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

He has had surgery but requires more later this year and had to have a lot of time off work, although he is back now.

“I had waited 11 year to sign a contract with a publisher then a month after I signed that deal my husband started having fits.

“The NHS was amazing. He was operated on so quickly. He’s doing really well although he will have to have more surgery and then a long time of recuperation.”

Despite all these challenges Boyle still continues to write and is now hoping that Titan may publish her next book too.

The Book of Baku by R L Boyle is published by Titan, £8.99