Hazel McHaffie

Over My Dead Body

Nothing new under the sun

Big sigh!

Publishing anything – a letter/article in a newspaper, a research paper, a novel – is always subject to time. Will someone else pip me to the post? Will I appear to be a plagiarist rather than an original thinker? Two incidents have stirred that old anxiety for me recently.

It’s a while since I read a novel which explores an ethical issue in my own sphere of interest, so I was intrigued by Susan Lewis’ 2017 book, Hiding in Plain Sight, especially when I kept reading and found her story overlaps with no less than three of my own novels.

* One of her principal characters is Penny Lawrence who led a disturbed childhood before running away aged 14. In Over my Dead Body (2013), I tried to get inside the mind of a child who struggles to relate to her family, and a mother who agonises over her own response to her child.
* Penny Lawrence gets involved in the world of selling babies to infertile couples. I asked a lot of what-if questions about surrogate pregnancy in Double Trouble (2005).
* When Penny Lawrence meets up with her mother and sister almost thirty years later, all three are forced to face the fractures in their family lives foursquare. In my current novel, Killing me Gently, I’m delving into the effect parents’ and children’s behaviour and emotions can have on family cohesion and integrity.

And curiously one of the titles I considered for my book was Killing in Plain Sight.

But there the similarities end. Susan Lewis’ take on these issues, her writing style, her whole approach, are completely different from mine. Character and plot tend to be far darker, the psyche more tortured, the secret lives more sinister. She’s quick to reassure us that her books are not intended to leave us feeling frightened or miserable but they do dabble in disturbing and sensitive subjects – in this case family tragedy and mental illness. I too deal with sensitive and troubling issues, I have even been known to end on a sad note, but I do aim to have redeeming features in my characters, and to leave lots of breathing space for the reader to form his/her own opinion on the rights and wrongs of what happens.

There’s ample room for both of us to be writing on these issues, I think.

So hopefully this same maxim will apply in the case of the new Sunday evening drama, The Cry, which started this week on BBC1. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the trailers started just after I finished my latest edit of Killing me Gently. Difficult to predict the degree of overlap at the moment but there are uncanny similarities.

I’ve never seen so many flash-backs and flash-forwards before, but we know this is about a young mum (played by Jenna Coleman aka Queen Victoria!) struggling with a fractious baby who vanishes mysteriously, and now the mum’s on trial for something baby-related. The series will be finished before my book comes out, so if push comes to shove I can always tweak my own plot if necessary, but of course, I devoutly hope it won’t be. Months, if not years, of blood, sweat and tears have gone into creating and realising this psychological thriller, getting it balanced, making the point.

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Points of View

My new novel is told through the eyes of three different narrators, and I’ve spent a lot of time and thought juggling with the options as to how best to present them. State the name at the beginning of each point of view? Designate chapters? Make the first paragraph by each person tell its own story? Leave the reader to fathom it out? Or what? In the end I went for the narrator’s name at the top of each chapter, as, for example, Jodi Picoult and Diane Chamberlain do. And as I did in Over my Dead Body.

After all, I don’t want my readers to be confused or struggling, do I?

Nor though, do I wish to underestimate their intelligence. Hmmm.

Moon TigerBut then, this week I’ve been reading Penelope Lively‘s Moon Tiger and I’m gobsmacked. Not only does she not give any such readerly assistance, but she changes POVs within chapters without warning, inserts flashbacks, omits punctuation willy nilly, doesn’t even break up dialogue. Surely this is pushing the boundaries a bit too far? And yet … well, I’m keeping up. OK, I’m having to concentrate, but it soon becomes clear who’s speaking. Sometimes it’s the once beautiful and famous historian, Claudia Hampton, now elderly and dying, lying in bed waiting for the end but thinking of bygone days. Sometimes it’s her young self, travelling, falling in love, working in exotic places, reporting wars and other civilisations. Sometimes it’s her only brother and adored adversary, Gordon. Sometimes it’s her daughter’s father, Jasper, charming but untrustworthy. Sometimes her colourless and conventional daughter, Lisa. Sometimes her one true love, Tom, found and lost in war-torn Egypt. A mad confusing medley you might think, and not the place to flout all the usual literary conventions. It certainly wouldn’t suit a lot of people I know. Probably not most who read my books in fact.

But hey, let’s not get too sniffy. After all, Moon Tiger won the Booker Prize in 1987. And Lively herself has been made a Dame for her contribution to literature!

That’s literary fiction for you. Rules? What rules?

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We’re all in this together

Portobello Book Festival It’s Saturday. It’s raining. Where am I? Yep, at the Portobello Book Festival. Why? Cos I’ve been invited to take part in an event about dementia. (Hardened visitors to this blog will know about my novel on the subject: Remember Remember.)

Today I’m sharing the spotlight with a poet, a doctoral student, and a campaigner. Could be interesting. In the chair is Alison Summers who, as part of a PhD in Creative Writing, has recently written a novel about a young person with dementia (she’s currently on the hunt for an agent). She has the job of firing the questions and keeping us all to time – not easy as it transpires!

On the panel? Tommy Whitelaw who went from being part of a global merchandising operation for the Spice Girls, Kylie and U2 (yep, really!), to being a full-time carer for his mother when she developed vascular dementia. He’s currently touring the country campaigning for better care and understanding of the condition. He’s here to talk about his personal experience, not his brush with fame. Next to him is John Killick, who’s spent decades helping people with dementia express their creativity, the results of which are captured in his recent book, Positive Dementia. He’s one of life’s natural listeners and he’s still kept busy promoting improved ways of caring in all sorts of places. And then there’s me.

Ahah. The introductions establish a common thread: all three panel members have been working actively in the dementia world, using the spoken word, as well as the written – fact as well as fiction – to help raise awareness of the condition and the issues around it.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that, though we all come from different backgrounds and different disciplines, and we weren’t in cohoots beforehand, a concerted message comes across:  the importance of properly listening to people with dementia and their carers; listening to what they say and what they can only express through their body language or music or even silence. Care based on that kind of compassionate listening will be truly person-centred, respectful and sensitive. The kind of care we would all want for our loved ones.

Cross inside churchThis cross just inside the Old Parish Church (the venue for the session) seems entirely apposite.  Sensitive, responsive care is a form of love for our fellow man.

Blackwell's van

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good to see friends from Blackwell’s Bookshop there too with piles of my novels. It still gives me a thrill to see those 3-for-2 stickers on them.

As I walk away from Portobello I’m reminded of Sigmund Freud: One must not be mean with the affections; what is spent of the fund is renewed in the spending itself.

PS. Remember this?

Iron railings

Well, voilà!

Black railings

In spite of the rain and the professional engagements and the time spent with lovely ladies with dementia and all the sundries of everyday life, after four coats of paint, those endless endless railings and gates are now finally FINISHED! Hurrah!! And the tedium of the job gave me oodles of time to plot my talk – this time about Over my Dead Body. Another tick on the to-do list.

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Another eBook available!

Wahey! At long last, after many a hiccup and delay (no, don’t ask) the electronic version of Over My Dead Body is finally available! And it’s only £2.48.

Over my Dead Body

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A diminishing art

Hmm. The latest edition of the women’s writing journal Mslexia has come down in favour of writing books by hand. HandwritingAuthor and workshop leader Jackee Holder reckons that the act of writing with pen/pencil and paper unleashes an extra layer of creativity. The slowness and concentration help you to focus and connect to what you’re writing. D’you think she’s right? Is that your experience?

Queen of chick lit, Jill Mansell, says she hand writes her novels … whilst sitting on a sofa with daytime TV blaring! Goodness, gracious! Queen of nothing me, I much prefer typing my stories – so much faster and easier to tweak and rearrange and cut and paste and find my way round – in perfect peace and quiet, squirrelled away in my study.

But maybe these other authors are more single-minded, not using their hands/time for all the multitude of tasks mine are grappling with. They’re certainly unlikely to be painting interminable iron railings! It has taken more-hours-than-I-care-to-tot-up of painstaking work for ours to go from pink primer to grey undercoat to black top coat (multiply the surface area you see by 2). Unbelievably fiddly and time consuming and weather dependent. We’re planning to christen them our ‘Independence Gates’ because we were working on them in the run up to, and during, Scotland’s vote on the referendum question.

Iron railings

Of course, I’m still writing and reading and thinking alongside the painting. Indeed tedious tasks like this offer very useful thinking/plotting time. I’d love to share my recent reading with you – it’s unexpected and challenging and uncomfortable – but I can’t  because it would spoil the denouement of my current novel if you knew in advance where I’m going. Suffice it to say that some of my acquaintances will draw in their breath sharply – at the very least!

I’m also mentally preparing for a number of looming author appearance – if you’re in the Edinburgh area and interested, I’m at the Portobello Book Festival on Saturday 4 October  (talking about dementia and Remember Remember), and the National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge on Tuesday 21st October (focusing on organ transplantation and Over My Dead Body). If you come, do make yourself known to me. Incidentally, though they’re ticketed events, both are FREE! With these forthcoming appearances in mind the horrific experience of Kate Long, successful author of seven novels, resonated with me this week. Fairly early on in her career, she attended a bookclub session where members were discussing one of her novels. Turns out no one but the group organiser had liked it at all and they roundly condemned it – in her presence. What made it worse was that Kate had spent £100 and travelled 200 miles to attend the event! And she didn’t like to ask for reimbursement because the group were part of a charity. Insult to injury comes to mind. However, on reflection, since she felt nothing could ever be that bad again, the encounter actually gave her confidence. She now knew she had the inner strength to survive and acquit herself with dignity, whatever was thrown at her. Give that woman a medal for sharing her humiliation with the rest of us. That takes courage. Oh, and subsequent undisputed success, maybe, too.

To date I’ve been lucky; I’ve never encountered that sort of negativity. But maybe I should prepare myself. I’m not at all sure I should bob back as healthily as Kate.

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Perfectionism

Perfectionism is the writer’s besetting sin. Every book is flawed or even failed copy of the ideal book that existed in your mind before you began. And every book is, at some level, a correction of the one that went before.‘ So goes the editorial in the Spring edition of The Author.

How true. I used to have a sticker on my computer that said, ‘Perfection is always one more draft away‘, but I took it down in the end because … well, you know me!  Mrs An-inch-away-from-obsessive. I’d have been putting off publication date ad infinitum. In the end ‘good enough’ has to do, or the jolly old title will never see the light of day.

Over my Dead BodyBut I think it’s this abiding awareness of imperfection that’s partly what makes it such a joy to go out to meet real live folk who’ve read the books and love them, to listen to their comments and generous commendation. They come to the stories without all my baggage and yet they enter into the lives of the characters and talk about them as if they too know them personally. All very confirming.

I’ve been doing quite a lot of author appearances since Over my Dead Body came out, and people are so kind. So thank you, librarians, event organisers, audiences, readers – keep up the good work. We writers need you, just as you need us. And never underestimate the value of your feedback. If for any reason you can’t get to an event to speak to us face to face, pop a comment on our websites, or post a review on Amazon or Goodreads. We love to hear from you.

OK, my mind might have been wandering down the track of never being quite good enough, but that’s made me more aware of other kinds of perfection in our amazing world:SwanPoppySpider's webWe can’t go out and photograph the human brain but how amazingly crafted it is to be capable of conjuring up fictitious scenes and people so vividly that other brains can picture them and feel their emotions merely through black squiggles on white paper. Imagine that! I am lost in wonder.

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Sneering reviews

Jamaica InnWe’ve been hearing a lot about Daphne du Maurier recently, in the build up to the BBC’s three-part adaptation of Jamaica Inn, which was shown on BBC1 this week. Did you watch it? I was one of the ones who persevered, but must confess to being disappointed. The poor sound of the first episode, the unintelligible dialects and the extremely dark settings, made both hearing and watching it hard work (it was a relief to me to hear hundreds of other viewers had struggled too; I thought my ears and eyes were suddenly succumbing to old age!). Grim and brooding though the early nineteenth century story undoubtedly is, this production team lost something of the vibrancy of the tale with their handling of these aspects.

But perhaps it’s appropriate that the film should attract criticism. Even though her Gothic romances sold millions, and what’s more, still sell well today over seven decades after publication, du Maurier herself was plagued all her writing life by dismissive reviews from the literary critics. As she once wrote, ‘You don’t know how hurtful it is to have rotten sneering reviews, time after time again throughout my life. The fact that I sold well never really made up for them.’

Frankly, I’d settle for being a bestseller every time. Her books are national treasures, and we all know her name; which is more than can be said of her critics.

Lots of authors, of course, give reviews a very wide berth, preferring not to know about the damning criticism of assorted mixed-ability reviewers with their own varied agendas. And there is a school of thought that says a bad review is better than no review, but I’m not so sure MP Nadine Dorries would echo that sentiment. Her debut novel, The Four Streets, got a real stinker of a review from  Christopher Howse in the Telegraph, two weeks ago. It was headed ‘Avoid this book’, and began with ‘If you enjoy advertisements for the NSPCC this is the novel for you.’ Hmm. Not an auspicious start. It included: ‘Perhaps, if the novel had begun at page 289, on which something happens, it might have stood a chance. As it is, the action repeatedly falls from the author’s grip, like a dummy from the lips of a fractious child in an old pram.’  Ouch. Howse’s overall verdict? ‘This is the worst novel I’ve read in 10 years.’ And to round it all off: ‘A sequel – may the Holy Mother protect us – is due in the autumn.’ Double ouch. My heart goes out to Dorries.

Actually getting a review in one of the major publications is no mean feat in itself; the jolly old Telegraph has never featured one of my books and I don’t pretend to be in that league. But having been thinking along these lines, critically appraising the BBC production, sympathising with the du Mauriers and Dorries of this world, I was doubly in the mood to be cheered by a critique of my own latest offering in a much less well-known publication, which only came to my attention last week. I share it with you in the spirit of keeping light as well as shade in this blog post.

Over my Dead BodyHazel McHaffie has earned a solid reputation as a writer whose novels grapple with the dilemmas at the heart of contemporary medical ethics. Her characters face decisions that change lives. In Over My Dead Body, the subject is organ donation, and the arguments for and against it play out through her convincing portrayals of the bereaved mother and the hospital team … McHaffie takes the general and makes it human. She takes the cerebral, ethical story and makes it personal by taking the reader into the hospital corridors and right up to the bedsides of those facing the dilemmas. It’s thought-provoking stuff, and very readable.

What a kindly critic. But more importantly, effectively summarising precisely what I’m all about. Thanks hugely, Northwords Now.

 

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Appearances – deceptive or otherwise

Yes, indeedy! Appearances (in both senses) can be deceptive in more ways than one.

One of the most enjoyable events I do is visiting bookgroups. Usually I sit in on their discussion of my book, and answer any questions that they direct at me about it. It’s always a great thrill to hear people talking about my characters as if they know them, reflecting on the people they like or dislike, the bits that resonated for them, the aspects that were less convincing. (Nobody’s totally assassinated my writing so far, which helps, of course!) It’s usually all very relaxed, with a glass of wine along the way, the odd crisp/nut/biscuit, and I have leisure to learn from their comments about what works and what doesn’t. Incidentally, the negative comments are often more powerful and instructive for me than the compliments.

However, last Thursday’s ‘author appearance’ was rather different. The setting, the welcome, the people, were all deluxe, but from the outset the questions came thick and fast – in my direction! My career, my subjects, my choices, my opinions, were all under the microscope. The assembled ladies had a wealth of knowledge and experience between them – both personal and professional; they were most encouraging and engaged and generous, but I was most definitely in the big black chair! They’d all read Over My Dead Body for this session but that merely served as a reference point; they were interested in the why and the how of writing about medical ethical issues – forcing me to  think fast. Why did I go down the fiction route after years in academia? Why did I write a particular novel at a particular time? What prompted me to write about that specific topic? Where do ideas come from? Why did such and such a character have to die? How do I cope with the emotional drain of writing such books? How would I tackle the issue of too few organ donors? It was all very stimulating and great fun, and very good for me to be put on the spot – I can prepare for a discussion on the book; I can’t really prepare for so many challenges out of left field. 

BookgroupI salute you, ladies! You were wonderful. This picture (apologies for the quality – I didn’t like to bring the big camera!) captures the essential qualities of a super session: intelligent articulate people, a stimulating topic, peaceful ambience, excellent lubrication. My only regret … I can’t join all the bookclubs I visit!

 

 

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Novel number 9?

Several people have independently asked me this week where I’m at with novel number 9. Well, the short answer is: I’m still researching the topic – part time at that, because I mustn’t be deflected too far from the necessary task of promoting Over my Dead Body at the moment.

Truth is, most of this background work isn’t exciting enough to anyone else to report it. Goodness, some of it is even tedious for me, as I confessed last November! However, I like to focus on the positive and this week I discovered another gem that has given me new impetus.

Books about anorexiaRemember this shelf of novels I had to plough through? Well, one of them: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, has restored my faith in authors who write about eating disorders.

The storyline is pretty much the same as all the others. Lia is 18. She’s anorexic. She’s watched her parents split up. She has an ambivalent relationship with her stepmother. She constantly fights the urge to eat. She has a grossly distorted body image. Yawn, yawn. All horribly familiar.

But in Lia’s case there’s an added dimension: she’s consumed by guilt. Not because she’s stick thin and disobeying all the injunctions of her psychiatrist – no. Rather because, before she died, her ex-best friend and fellow anorexic, Cassie, tried 33 times to speak to her, increasing desperation screaming through the messages she left. But Lia refused to answer. And now Cassie has been found dead in a sleazy motel room. Alone.

So why did this book appeal? Lia’s teenage voice is authentic and engaging without the all-too-common patronising undertones. Her mental troubles are captured sensitively. She’s a haunted soul, and Anderson has managed to convey the devastating effect of such a situation without moralising or lecturing. All making us want to know why Lia ignored the pleas, how Cassie died, whether Lia will survive the trauma.

Also the writing is in a different league.

‘She’s still learning how to pick her way through the bombed-out countryside that lies between her stepmess and the mythological Wife Number One.’

‘I go up two flights and tiptoe across the polished floor of her bedroom, sloooooowly turn the doorknob, and open her bathroom door a crack. A breath of steam trickles out, filled with the sobs of a grown woman breaking into girl-sized pieces. I close the door.’

Furthermore, the author employs some simple but effective techniques which appealed to me. Scratching out the narrator’s thoughts shrieks at us/lets us know what the ‘nasty voices‘ in her head are telling her /Lia really thinks, or would say if she dared. Repetition of the haunting reality of Cassie’s death keeps Lia’s preoccupation centre stage.

… she called.

thirty three times.

you didn’t answer.

body found in motel room, alone.

you killed her.

I was beginning to lose the will to live/wonder if I’d made the right choice of subject for the next book. Wintergirls has made me believe in the possibility again. Onwards and upwards!

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‘It is yesterday that makes tomorrow sad’

No two author appearances are the same: the venues, the audiences, the questions, the reactions, vary greatly. But of course, for the author, the subject matter is pretty constant when you’re doing a post-publication circuit. Me speakingI’m in the midst of this at the moment for Over my Dead Body so it made a nice change on Monday to sit in the body of the kirk listening to somebody else; watching and learning from their performances.

Sally Magnusson was the star attraction of a conference at the Dementia Centre in Stirling University, talking about her new book: Where Memories Go: Why Dementia Changes Everything. It chronicles her mother’s journey into dementia – ‘a vicious brain affliction that hijacks memory, personality and functional capacity’. The blurb summarises it as ‘both deeply personal and a challenging call to arms. Faced with one of the greatest social, medical, economic and moral challenges of our times, society must urgently reconsider how we look after the most fragile of our citizens.’

Sally herself has been a familiar face to us in Scotland where she regularly presents for the BBC; and of course, her father, Magnus was a household name before her. She comes across as someone I’d like to meet, so I went with high hopes … and a degree of fellow-feeling given that my own mother developed vascular dementia in the last year of her life.

Reproduced with kind permission from the DSDC and Tony Marsh, photographer

Reproduced with kind permission from the DSDC and Tony Marsh, photographer

I was not disappointed. Her experience, as well as that of another excellent speaker, (Katharyn Barnett, a diamond analyst, telling her similar story) echoed mine in several dimensions. Both women lamented the lack of understanding, knowledge and empathy, the need for ‘big, bold, top-down culture change‘. Both appealed for better resources and support. Amen to that.

Sally’s book itself? Beautifully written, moving and very readable. It doesn’t shirk the reality, the frightening, sobering facts about this horrible thieving illness which is now so much more prevalent in our aging society. But it’s softened and made more accessible and gripping by the personal elements. The focus throughout is her beloved mother, to whom she’s speaking, whom she wants to remember in vivid detail.

‘I tap late into the night, eager to round up your slippery self before it slides into yet another shape. It’s as if I have to catch you now, as if by the time I see you again tomorrow it may all have changed, as indeed there is every chance it will. If I can only pin you by the bullet point, secure you with headings, trap you in words, corral you within a list, then perhaps I can hold you beside me here for ever …’

In the telling, the Magnusson family come alive and they feel very real. In spite of her glamorous public persona, Sally is a ‘normal’ daughter, niece, mother, aunt, to her many relatives, rolling up her sleeves and getting stuck in with ordinary everyday things. Driving the elderly as well as the young around. Escorting, comforting, entertaining. Being irritable, losing her temper, regretting, lamenting. As she says, she too knows ‘the confusion in a middle-aged soul’, being ‘pinched so hard between two generations that we have trouble locating an identity of our own.’

Her father, Magnus, comes across as a rather detached figure, retreating to his study and his writing, leaving the running of a large household to the womenfolk. Mother, Mamie, once a highly respected journalist in her own right, is portrayed as a lively, loving, wise, colourful character at the very centre of the family. Sally recalls her ‘falling out of a punt into the River Cherwell, tumbling down a Glasgow manhole and half drowning during the vigorous self-cleaning cycle of an automatic French toilet,’ but always bobbing up again with insouciant charm and wit. Now though, she’s causing a different kind of reaction, a vague unease segueing into horrified realisation: losing her sense of curiosity, wandering around a guesthouse half clad, challenging two huge ‘gansta types’ on the London underground, needling her twin sister, forgetting words.

The diagnosis comes harshly and there are no magic bullets, search as Sally might among the world’s experts. The family regroup; the Mamie-sitting begins. In spite of their busy, high profile jobs, the Magnussons resolve to look after Mamie at home. They are articulate, energetic, insightful, relatively wealthy – they have the wherewithal to marshall support and an army of assistants. Not everyone can. But even with their resources the toll on Sally and her sisters is heavy – the constant anxiety, chaos, extreme fatigue, frayed nerves. Their own families suffer.

On the other hand, they see for themselves the benefits of familiar surroundings, constant family presence, the therapeutic value of the music which has been so central to Mamie all her life. They confront head-on the reality of decision making at the end of life – do we let her slip away or do we treat? – as a family: unencumbered by the constraints and pressures of officialdom, with their mother safe in her and their own world.

‘What mattered was that life still burned within you, fierce and lovely, and we could not let you go.’ However ‘… we know it could be different, perhaps even should be different, next time. Drug development is out of kilter. We have medicine to stop lungs filling up but not the brain eroding. We have drugs and vaccines to counteract or slow down almost ever disease that nature has organised to bring life to a close, but none to mend the mind. So thousands of old people lie in thousands of beds,waiting for a death we do our best to deny them for as long as possible. Better, perhaps, to face thinking about a time when the treatment might be allowed to stop.’

Over time they revisit their decisions as they see the life they have revived her for sliding into ever more debilitating levels: the ‘scorching emptiness’ in her eyes, the dislocation, the sadness, the fear, the outbursts of rage, the ‘tyrannical’ attention seeking, the inconsolable weeping, the hostility, the violence, the ranting and raving, the unearthly keening, the hallucinations, the ‘nightmare your life became’. But Sally finds the most harrowing moments are when her mother manages to rise above the fog sufficiently to articulate her feelings: utterly lost; hating her dependence on others. That was the worst stage for me too, when my mother was aware of her predicament.

Difficult as the behaviours are, the Magnusson sisters face other stark challenges.

‘What is threatening to defeat us daughters is not so much your behaviour as our emotions. Others, namely the stalwart women who look after you as a part-time job, seem often to manage you better than we do. We have kept a major role in what is now a 24-hour rota not just because the financial reserves are finite but because it is clear you want us. Yet each of us is haunted by a mounting sense of failure … Perhaps, we three sisters tell ourselves, we need to hand over the reins to people who are not so emotionally involved, who don’t find tears flooding into their eyes every time you lash out or look lost. Perhaps we must contrive to become breezy visitors rather than ragged carers.’

Nevertheless the occasional sparks of recognition, the lulls in the battle when they sang together, the rare tender touches, kept them persevering at home to the end, shored up by the team of professionals who tended to their mother’s physical needs. 

In the end Sally concludes, on a personal level, through this painful journey with her mother, she has discovered the true meaning of love – a love which she wants her own five children to understand. And on a more global level, she believes, ‘A nation discovers its truest dignity when it cherishes the dignity of those from whom it has not heard for a very long time. That much I have learned, beloved mother, from your living and your dying.’

The story isn’t new. So many thousands of other daughters have travelled a similar path, but perhaps the powers-that-be will listen to an attractive, articulate celebrity who has captured the anguish and the need so eloquently.

One final thought: Analysis of Iris Murdoch‘s writing reveals a change – simplified syntax and impoverished vocabulary – when Alzheimer’s started to destroy the connections in her brain. Mamie Magnusson simply stopped writing. I must listen well to critique on my own scribbling as the years roll on! Is this dread illness even now lurking under the lamp post outside my window?

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