A death led me to suburban Surrey. I living in rural France and working on a building site before becoming the domestic goddess I am today; a full time carer for a mum with Parkinson’s Dementia.
My father died in February 2015. My mother was in a care home and the choice was simple; leave her there or take care of her myself. I was fifty-seven years old, divorced – or single, as you prefer – and my two daughters were grown. I’d been trying to write my first book – a novel based on real events in the Cuban revolution – after a day mixing concrete and too much rosé (by way of inspiration, you understand.)
So I could. But as the full enormity of what I’d taken on became the daily reality of nappies, hoists, medications and car
ers to assist me I knew the writing would have to wait. Until I recognised the rich experience ahead of me might also be material. Was there a way to make all this make sense, and a way to talk about the six and a half million carers in the UK doing just what I was doing?
Where to begin? How to find the time? How to tell a story that wouldn’t be belly flop into the lake of misery memoir?
Then it hit me. Tell it like it is. Admit you don’t know what you’re doing. Admit you don’t like giving up your life for this shitty, (literally), daily grind. Confess, you’d like a little love for yourself from time to time. Maybe even take a risk and see the funny side? Really?
Enter the Arvon Foundation, and a course called ‘Starting to Write Non-fiction’. I wasn’t sure. How would they react to an old guy who thought he might combine the trials of care with the tribulation of internet dating?
Here’s how. By accepting me on the course, a good start. By giving everything I did in the lead up – audio recordings, notes, style experiments, structural debates and fear control – real focus. By awarding me a grant. I couldn’t have got the care cover or justified the expense. By allowing me one-to-one access with tutors who are writers, writers who get it, who could spur me on to re-write and re-frame my thinking where necessary, who were frank and open themselves, who understood it could be hard, who encouraged experimentation and above all, revelation…
…by putting me together with others on the same journey, folk facing the same fears. By letting me read and hear readings round a grand oak table, amongst friends; readings that provided perspective, incentive, thrust and a sense of purpose. By offering me the opportunity to relax, enjoy, not take myself too seriously and above all, to try, to fail, and to try again. To work at it until it’s right.
I say above all…actually, if I’m honest, it was the food above all…oh, and the rosé…
…reminded me of France.