“I didn’t want her to be that little girl splashing around in the shallow end, waiting for her friends to come back”

Author Jane Elson used her own experience of asthma to create courageous heroine Bee Edwards

“Asthma is something I have always lived with - it's a part of who I am. When I was a tiny baby, the doctor walked into our house and from just inside the front door he could hear my breathing from all the way upstairs in the bedroom."

Asthma affected my family too

“That’s why in Swimming to the Moon, my heroine Bee calls asthma the elephant sitting on her chest. It used to feel like that to me. I remember I used to wake up in the night wheezing. It was so dark and I used to feel as if the darkness was closing in on me. It was really frightening. I have very strong memories of standing wobbly-legged in the playground, on my first day back at school after a bout of asthma.

“My lungs always react to a change of air, so from hot to cold (or cold to hot), country air to London air and vice versa. Dust and feathers are also a big factor for me. 

"My mum thought it was the farm cats causing my asthma when I was a little girl but in my heart I felt it wasn’t. As an adult I fostered a blind ginger cat called Griffid from Cats Protection. They really support their fosterers and have lots of good advice for people with allergies. However, I was absolutely fine and didn’t react to Griffid at all. After Griffid passed away I adopted a one-eyed, raggedy-eared, black ex-alley cat called Larry from The Celia Hammond Animal Trust.

“I sometimes think it's even more frightening for those around you when you are having an asthma attack, than it is for the person having one, because the wheezing sounds so alarming. I remember my mum saying she wished she could breathe for me.

“I would say to children who get diagnosed with asthma, don’t be frightened. Once you have a diagnosis you can get help controlling your symptoms and will be able to do the things you want to do. As an adult I find my asthma far easier to deal with and I don’t let it stop me doing the things I enjoy.”

I proved the doubters wrong

"Swimming to the Moon is dedicated to ‘anyone who’s ever been told they can’t'. I remember going swimming with two of my friends and one of their dads saying that he was going to take the other two up to the deep end but that I had to stay in the shallow end because I wasn’t strong enough because of my asthma. I felt really sad and left out as I splashed about in the cold water, waiting for them to return.

“Not long after that there was a sponsored swim at school. You had to be able to swim two lengths to enter, and I lied and said I had swum two lengths before. My dad thought it was the funniest thing ever and took my sponsor form to the pub. Lots of strangers who had drunk too much beer signed my form with fake names like the Queen, the Prime Minister, Mick Jagger and all of the Beatles. My mum was furious but he just laughed and said he wouldn’t have to pay any money because I couldn’t swim.

“On the day of the sponsored swim, I jumped in holding my nose and doggy-paddled my first-ever length! My dad looked really shocked, and even more so when I did another one, gave him a cheeky wave and started doggy-paddling up and down the pool. I had to be lifted out of the pool and my wobbly legs collapsed – but I had proved him wrong and he had to cough up a lot of money.

“This story became Swimming to the Moon. My heroine Bee, so stylish with her quirky hats and DM boots, just jumped into my head and all of a sudden I knew she had asthma like me but she didn’t let it stop her doing anything. I didn’t want her to be that little girl splashing around in the shallow end, waiting for her friends to come back. I added the dynamic that Bee is also terrified of water. The story was a joy to write and I hope young people with asthma are inspired by Swimming to the Moon.”

Getting into a good routine

“I have to be careful about remembering to take my asthma medicines each day as I have dyslexia and part of that for me is bad short term memory. I make it part of my routine when I leave the house: phone, keys, reliever inhaler and always double check. I also have inhalers scattered around in different bags.

"I’d also recommend keeping an inhaler at work, and leaving a spare one at someone else’s house if you go there regularly. If you have a sleepover at someone’s house you need to make your hosts are aware and let them know where you keep your inhaler."

Inspiration from an unusual source

“A big turning point in feeling confident about my asthma was meeting Murphy, a horse with asthma, when I studied horse care at Kentish Town City Farm. I hadn’t known about animals having asthma before and I was fascinated. Murphy is a 26-year-old Irish Cob who developed asthma in his teens and has to take a horse inhaler. It’s the same size as mine but has a giant spacer.

“He is so stoic and just gets on with it, and he’s really good about taking his medication. In the last two years he has never looked better and it just shows how important it is to use your inhaler.

“The message I hope children will take from Swimming to the Moon is that asthma doesn’t stop you living your life. If you believe in yourself and work hard to achieve your goals anything is possible.”