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My First Time...with Vanessa Potter

Vanessa Potter spent 16 years as an award-winning broadcast producer in the London advertising industry before fate intervened and she awoke one morning to find she was blind and unable to walk. In her first book, Patient H69: The Story of my Second Sight, she shares her extraordinary story back to health. In My First Time... Vanessa tells us about over-zealous editing, oversharing and the power of Abba.

Vanessa Potter

Tell us about your book.

The Story of my Second Sight is about how, in 2012, aged 40 with two small children in tow, I lost my sight and my mobility overnight. As I slowly started to recover I experienced so many bizarre visual and sensory phenomena that I turned ‘science sleuth’ and persuaded neuroscientists at Cambridge University to help me uncover the science of my sight.

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book.

Standing at the top of a very steep hill in Crystal Palace (there are quite a few!) leaning on my crutches in the early days of my recovery.

I saw a shaft of sunlight appear through the mist. This was quite miraculous because at the time I had very little functioning vision. It was at that moment I decided I had to tell this story.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write your first book?

HOW to write a book! And how to write a memoir in particular…

What was the biggest tantrum you had while writing it?

When I got the first draft back after the copy editor had had a go at it.

Best thing about writing your book?

Hearing people tell me it’s a page-turner and that they couldn’t put it down. And the worst?

Realising I had shared a huge amount about my life with complete strangers.

What's your go-to procrastination method?

A walk in the park clears my mind and normally results in me dictating ideas into my phone all the way back home.

Go-to writing snacks?

I’d like to say hummus and carrots, but if I am honest it’s a gluten-free vegan brownie from my local chocolate shop.

Who or what inspires you to write?

Lots of different things: overhearing a conversation on a tube; a play at the theatre; something one of my children said. Recently I find inspiration in the middle of meditating (which is annoying).

The book that changed you?

Tough question! I would have to say Neville Shute’s On the Beach, which I read aged 11, or Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi.

Your pump-up song?

I find music too distracting when I’m writing…otherwise it would have to be Waterloo by Abba.

If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer dead or alive, who would it be?

Margaret Atwood.

What advice would you give first-time writers hoping to get a book published?

Accept that it is a learning process, and allow yourself time to grow and to get things wrong. Writing (especially writing well) takes time, and you just can’t rush it.

Connect with Vanessa on Twitter or visit her website.


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