Writing didn’t stop me grieving , but it gave me something positive to focus on
Author Caz Finlay tells DAWN COLLINSON how she wrote her first book to help cope with the tragedy of losing her baby son
ON THE day after her baby boy’s funeral, as she struggled to cope with the silence and the sadness, Caz Finlay searched for ways to distract herself.
Friends and family who’d been a constant company and comfort in the week after little Finn died, just 48 hours after he was born, had left and Caz and her husband Eric were alone with their grief.
“Even though I’d walked out of the maternity ward with no baby, which was the most horrendous feeling, I was still on maternity leave.
“The morning after the service I was looking for things to keep myself busy, so I thought I’d have a clear-out. There was this old laptop I’d used when I was at university and I wondered if it still worked. I turned it on and it all came back. And in that moment, I thought – I’m going to write a novel.
“I hadn’t written anything since I was at school,” she adds. “But I’m always daydreaming – I’ve got this cast of characters running around in my head all the time.”
In just six weeks, Caz had written her first draft of 85,000 words. “The story just poured out. It gave me an escape and I disappeared into it.”
For the 39-year-old probation officer, the novel became something she could throw herself into as she dealt with the pain of losing her baby: “It didn’t stop me grieving, but it gave me something positive to focus on.”
Caz and her husband Eric, who already had son Jude, had been over the moon when they found out she was pregnant with their second little boy in the spring of 2016.
But at the 20-week scan it was discovered he had a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. A hole in his diaphragm had allowed his stomach to move up, preventing his left lung from growing and pushing
his heart out of place.
“It was devastating, but the specialists were cautiously optimistic because his right lung looked good and he was massive.”
When Finlay was born by planned Caesarian section, on August 11 2016, weighing 10lb 14oz, he was rushed immediately to be ventilated before Caz even had chance to hold him.
“But when I went to see him the consultant and the nurse had these big smiles on their faces. They said they were so pleased because he was doing amazingly well.”
He was due to be transferred to another hospital the next day for a hernia operation, but it was delayed due to a lack of beds.
“But we thought that wasn’t a problem because he was doing so well,” remembers Caz. “Then that evening we both went along to see him and we saw them pulling a massive machine into the room he was in. There were babies in there who were tiny, and he was huge, he filled the incubator, but I just knew it was for him.
“From then on he deteriorated really quickly. Because they were having to push oxygen through to help him breathe, his good lung burst and he was really struggling. They tried everything, right through the night, and then in the morning we brought Jude in to meet him and we had a little christening.”
With Finlay in distress, they made the heartbreaking decision to switch off his life support.
“That was when I got to hold him for the first time. The doctor stopped helping him breathe through a tube and Finlay was gone within seconds. We’d had him just over 48 hours.”
Over the next week, Caz visited her baby every day in the hospital’s bereavement suite. “It was so comforting, sitting there with him in his crib. He looked so perfect. I loved those days, just me and him.”
The criminal justice graduate’s debut novel centres on gangster Nathan Conlon just out of jail and his long-suffering ex-wife Grace.
“I had a real interest in gang crime, and an idea for my two central characters, and once I started I just wrote and wrote. Some days it was two or three hours a day, others it could be six or seven.
“I felt powerless, because a mother should be able to protect her children and I couldn’t stop my son from dying, but now I had this ability to create my own world, that I was responsible for, and that lifted me up.”
When her close family and friends read the first draft and loved it, she started sending it to agents. “I got about six responses, all standard rejections,” she smiles.
Caz persevered, and at a book-signing event with bestselling crime writer Kimberley Chambers, she spotted her publisher.
“I went up and introduced myself. I told her about my book and she said I should send it to her because Harper Collins were looking for a gangland author for their Killer Reads list.”
Caz, from Liverpool, was put in touch with an editor in March last year, it was resubmitted to the publisher and then she waited.
“I remember lying in bed that night thinking, you’ve taken my son, please just give me something.
“The next day I received an email which said, ‘we’re delighted to offer you a two-book deal with Harper Collins’.”
During the editing process, Caz became pregnant again and the couple’s son, James, was born in November 2017.
Now, she’s looking forward to publication of her debut gangland thriller, The Boss.
And, she says, she’ll finally have what she’s wanted from the day she first picked up her laptop. “I’ll get to open the book and see the dedication ‘for Finlay’.”
The Boss by Caz Finlay, published by Harper Collins is available on ebook now and in paperback from August 22
Caz Finlay at work and, inset, her gangland crime thriller
Caz with her older son Jude and, above, baby Finn whose tragically short life spurred his mum to become a writer