A WRITER who proof read gravestones to earn her living while studying has published her first book.

Sara Marshall-Ball, of Brighton, took up the job to support her study for a creative and critical writing MA at Sussex University.

The course inspired her to write a short story about a woman who developed the anxiety disorder selective mutism because of a traumatic childhood trauma so she struggled to speak in some situations.

Ms Marshall-Ball, 30, who lives near Western Road, began to research mutism by speaking to a number of organisations and drew on her experience of anxiety disorders.

This paved the way for her debut novel Hush which took three and a half years to complete. The mystery's twists and turns which reveal the truth about Lily and her sister and the lies and deceit they battle are now published by Brighton-based Myriad Editions and is on sale.

She said: "I was a memorial co-ordinator, among other jobs, at a funeral director's in Brighton. It was a job I sort of fell into - I actually lived next door and saw an advert in the window - but I did really enjoy it when I was there. I moved on from proofreading gravestones to doing more of the background organisation of funerals, which was incredibly interesting."

She took the course after her undergraduate degree when she finished a first draft of a novel but never published it. Students were encouraged to swap photos and write a short story about them. A picture Ms Marshall-Ball was handed of a mother and daughter outside a house prompted the prologue to Hush.

She said: "I wanted a different way of thinking about my writing - I missed getting feedback from other people and the inspiration that comes from studying different types of writing. I've wanted to be a writer since I was a child but it was only when I did my MA I started seriously thinking about submitting to publishers."

Her current job, as an insurance claims assessor, helps her to detach her from her writing, particularly when she becomes so involved with her characters.

She said: "I find it hard to relax but playing in a samba band in London helps.

She said: "I'm not very good at planning. I tend to start writing and to see where the characters take me but with this I had a vague sense of the basic structure. It is daunting to deal with big themes but there is a lot of stigma attached to mental illness and I would like to feel I am making a difference."

She is already writing her next book on psychosis.

The book is on sale for £8.99