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'The day I was asked to ghostwrite a grieving mum's story' Lynne Barrett-Lee usually deals in romance. But the author couldn't say no to helping Sonia Oatley tell her daughter's harrowing story as a ghostwriter in Bye Mam, I Love You. This is the story of her experience.

AS A ghostwriter I get to meet a lot of different people.

If, like me, you are lucky enough to be offered a diverse range of potential projects, it's in the nature of the job. And, more often than not, despite having ghosted for people who've had extremely traumatic periods in their lives, we've worked together towards the happy, or at least optimistic, because, in almost all cases, that's what readers seem to want.

Demons slayed, challenges met, hope finally springing eternal. But where do you start when your agent calls you up one sunny morning and says: "How do you feel about potentially ghostwriting a book by Rebecca Aylward's mother?" When I met Sonia, in the early spring of 2013, many in the UK had already forgotten the Rebecca Aylward murder that took place in Aberkenfig in October 2010. Many in Wales had forgotten as well.

There's always a new tragedy waiting to fill the front pages of the tabloids, after all.

But it's still via those same tabloids that Becca's senseless death seems to spring most readily back into mind.

Perhaps she was always destined to be known as the girl who, according to more than one of the red tops, was "killed for the price of a breakfast" - reference to a text exchange just before her murder was carried out by an ex-boyfriend, Joshua Davies. Or, rather, she would be, but for her mother Sonia's determination that her eldest daughter (she has three children, Becca, Jess and Jack) would have more than a crass tabloid soundbite to mark the tragedy of her passing.

No, Sonia wanted two things above all: To celebrate the short life of her beautiful daughter, and to tell the full story of the events that surrounded her killing, and of the trial (which she sat through, every single gruelling day of it) which saw Davies convicted of her murder.

As any parent who has lost a child knows, there is no happy ending.

Only a determination to make the best of every parent's worst nightmare. So for me this was completely new territory. Yes, I was perhaps the logical choice - we're both based in South Wales, so are reasonably local - but I'm a generally sunny person, a former (and perhaps latter) romantic comedy novelist.

Could I empathise su-ciently with this kind of tragedy - the most devastating blow life could impart? And, even if I could, what sort of book would we create? What publishing box would be ticked? Who would be our readers? Wouldn't anyone want to shy away from such tragedy and brutality? My hunch was that all those questions could only be answered in the negative.

And I was wrong on every count.

I realised that the minute I met Sonia.

I was so drawn to her; so keen to hear her story for myself.

I guess it's simply human nature to want to establish truth, however dicult.

It's human nature to read about the worst side of being human, to look into the dark and try to fathom the mind of a killer - perhaps as endorsement that we are not like them.

It's human to want to read books that make us angry, and make us weep.

To read human stories T that make us count our own blessings, make us take less for granted, that compel us to seize the day.

It was on that basis that I met Sonia and, having met her, I could no more say no to her than y. ere were other factors too, of course.

I knew little of Becca's story bar those lurid headlines, and the snippets revealed as her killer's trial progressed.

But there was clearly so much more to be told. Of what turned out to be a long campaign to end her life. Of a murder not just planned but openly talked about. Even openly bragged about, just before its execution.

Of another long campaign, this time by the police, to bring to justice the ex-boyfriend who carried that chilling plan through. Of many days, after months of being unable to be told anything, of having to sit in court, only feet from her daughter's murderer, and have the extent of the premeditation and violence spelled out.

All this Sonia endured, while trying to make sense of the senseless, while helping the police by relinquishing precious personal possessions, while comforting Becca's brother and sister as best she could.

All this and, because it might damage vital evidence, having not even been able to hug or kiss her child goodbye.

So I said yes, and I'm so glad I did.

And that's not just because I believe what I've helped Sonia create is a fascinating insight into the criminal justice system.

Neither is it because it's a glimpse into the unknowable nature of such a coldblooded killer.

Nor (much as it matters) because it stands in memoriam to the young life, full of potential, snatched away.

No, it's because what was an emotional, often dicult and occasionally harrowing book to ghostwrite, feels such an important book to have written. Bye Mam, I Love You |by Sonia Oatley with Lynne Barrett-Lee is published by John Blake.

CAPTION(S):

Lynne Barrett-Lee, helped write Sonia's story, right

Rebecca Aylward

Sonia Oatley told her daughter's story with the help of ghostwriter Lynne Barrett-Lee. Sonia's daughter Rebecca |Aylward was murdered by her ex-boyfriend Sonia Oatley told her daughter's story with the help of ghostwriter Lynne Barrett-Lee. Sonia's daughter Rebecca | 250414SONIA_017 PETER BOLTEOL TE OL
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 15, 2014
Words:920
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