By Liz Fenwick, 5th February 2019

Alzheimer’s. Fear. Reality. Pain.

Using Words to Help me Heal

Using Words to Help me Heal

One of the first questions I am asked by readers when they meet me, is generally, ‘where do you find your inspiration?’ The truth of the matter is, most authors write from the heart. Maybe not those who write phycological thrillers, but those who write more emotional dramas certainly draw from personal experience. That was certainly the case when I decided to pen One Cornish Summer.

One Cornish Summer, published early last year, was certainly a cathartic experience for me. Written using personal experience and in the hope that some may feel comfort in the words on the page and feel a little less alone.

One Cornish Summer : Blurb
Against the beauty of Cornwall, a story of two women struggling with their past: one cannot remember hers, the other cannot forget…
When Hebe receives a life-changing diagnosis at only 53, she struggles to make sense of what it will mean for her, her job and the man she loves. With memories slipping away by the day, she flees to the one place she has always felt safe and peaceful – Cornwall, and the house her family spent so many summers in.
Lucy is having her own crisis, and seizes the chance to follow her aunt to Cornwall. Curious about what has driven Hebe there after so many years, she also has to battle with the secret she has kept since her family’s last summer there more than ten years ago.
Both women will learn that memories live in our hearts and that sharing secrets can set you free… But can they find their way back to the things that are truly important to them?

 

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Alzheimer’s is one of those things for lack of a better word that sits in everyone’s mind whether they have personally encountered it or simply heard about it. It is what many of us fear the most…losing our memories, minds, our selves. Dementia in all its forms is all around.

For years we have known of the elderly suffering memory loss and accepted this as part of life. But Alzheimer’s is a game changer. For one, it isn’t always gentle and two, it can afflict the young.

I had wanted to write about early onset Alzheimer’s for a while. My best friend’s sister was like my own big sister and is now sadly in the final stages.

She is in her sixties.

I first became aware of it eleven years ago at my best friend’s wedding. I spent the weekend in Vermont with Jane (names have been changed). She was in her early fifties and it was apparent then. What made the situation sadder was that she was trying to manage her mother who was also suffering from the disease.

My heart broke and a grieving process began.

As with all things I grieve about, I needed to write about it to figure it. So I began researching early on-set Alzheimer’s. A simple internet search revealed more heart-wrenching details and there are some fantastic novels written about it… Still Alice by Lisa Genova and The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman.

I put the idea away until I accepted that my mother was also starting down this road. She is not early on-set but the realities of dealing with it are similar. Sadly this acknowledgment of her condition coincided with my father’s death, leaving me alone as an only-child coping with the realities.

The biggest was the loss of my mother as the woman I knew…strong, capable and fun. I hold back tears every time we circle around the same things and I only see true glimpses of the fierce woman before in flashes…particularly associated with music and her Irish roots.

Singing or even doing a little gig around the kitchen brings my mum back…and she doesn’t miss a word or a step. I hold tight to those moments.

The idea of a book dealing with Alzheimer’s hadn’t left me but had waited. On a visit to Godolphin House in Cornwall, I found the key that unlocked the story I wanted, needed to tell.

Godolphin was once the greatest house in Cornwall. Reports say there were as many as fifty bedrooms. Now, although striking and evocative, it is a shadow of its former glory especially the wall that lines the south side of the courtyard. This wall, now only half the height it had been, stands with empty windows and vines working their way around the stones.

Pausing in front of it I knew this was the setting to use to talk about Alzheimer’s. That wall hinted at the glory that had once been there but now it was nothing more than an echo of the past. Over the years stone by stone the great house had crumbled and the stones were used in other buildings. In Godolphin House I had found my setting.

As I mentioned above, my mother remembers all the words to the songs she grew up with but in One Cornish Summer, I wanted to use poetry. Hebe, a fifty-four-year-old historian, has a passion for it. In particular the poetry of John Donne. His poems are filled with metaphors and can be read in so many ways that it helps to capture her feelings about love. Through these words, she is able to hold on to love until the end when everything else has gone.

Alzheimer’s not only steals from the afflicted but also all those that love them. They are with you but they are not…they are only shadows of themselves. I know that writing the book helped me grieve for both Jane and for my mother. It gave the distance I need to process it.


What did you think?

    chat 4 Comments

  1. John Jackson ● February 5, 2019 at 4:15 pmReply

    Beautifully told, Liz.
    A dance around the kitchen? P and her late mum also!!!
    Alzheimer’s, or my Mother’s variant, Vascular Dementia, is the spectre at every feast! Memories are so, so precious. One reason I take so many photographs. It’s not just as a gift to those friends who find themselves in the frame, but as an aide-memoir (literally) for me, should I need one.

    To all intents and purposes, the mother I knew died when she had the fall and the resultant stroke. She went straight into full-blown dementia. Even though her body lived on for another four years, she was but a shell of the person my mother had been.
    As an initiative for a story- it certainly worked with One Cornish Summer. A truly lovely book, and, once again, written with that “spirit of place” you bring to all your books.

  2. Liz Fenwick ● February 5, 2019 at 5:37 pmReply

    Thanks John. It’s so hard, it steals so much xx

  3. Angela Petch ● February 7, 2019 at 9:13 amReply

    Beautiful words. So many of us are touched by this cruel disease. My Italian mother-in-law is now in a home and has Alzheimer’s. Even though she’s 93, it’s still cruel to witness her decline. I too wrote her memories into my first novel, which is being republished in June by Bookouture. I feel it’s a written photograph of her but with sepia edging(added fiction). Thanks for your beautiful post and I’m off to buy your book.

  4. Liz Fenwick ● February 11, 2019 at 1:30 pmReply

    Angel thank you for your kind words and hugs. It’s so hard to witness. What is the name of you book?

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