For as long as I can remember I have silently, and fairly compulsively, articulated thoughts, ideas and stories in my head. Words would come and go as I chose the ones I wanted and shaped them mentally.
I suppose I’ve always been a writer. That’s certainly what my Dad said when, aged 11, I won a children’s TV writing competition (Associated Rediffusion – Peter Ling and Hazel Adair who went on to write Coronation Street etc). It was what my tutor at Teacher Training College said too.
In the event it was decades before I took myself seriously although, as a teacher, I always wrote reports, policy documents and letters to parents which colleagues seemed to admire. Then came Open University essays which I really liked doing and seemed to be pretty good at.
In the end I bowed to the inevitable and started sending articles off to newspapers. A year or two later I became a professional writer and went part-time as a teacher. I finally became a full-time pro and stopped teaching altogether in 2004. In the last 30 years I have – and it amazes me too – published more than 5,000 articles and over 50 books.
I play with sentences and ideas when I’m walking, gardening, cooking or pretending to watch television. Many’s the time I’ve been fidgety and restless in the night and my husband Nick has said “Why don’t you go and type up whatever it is you’re ‘writing’ and then perhaps you might be able to get to sleep?”
So when my poor Nick, who had been displaying some rather worrying symptoms, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in April 2016, the words started to tumble about in my anxious head. I think it’s my strategy for facing up to the truth. For me, writing is the antithesis of denial. It’s a way ordering my thoughts.
I was initially so pole-axed by the word “Alzheimer’s” at that consultation that I was literally almost unable to stand upright when we staggered out of the building. It was Nick who had to support and steer me into the coffee shop over the road. I think I comprehended the appalling implications faster then he did. All he could think about, at that moment, was having been ordered to surrender his driving licence.
But within a day or two it was all shaping itself into a piece of writing in my mind. So I asked him if I could write about his illness fully expecting a horrified no because he was a quiet, private sort of man. To my amazement his eyes lit up and he said: “Yes. Go on. Why not? You’ll do it well and perhaps going public will help others.”
So I did. In the first instance I wrote a one-off piece for The Daily Telegraph although it was a while before it was published: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/relationships/husbands-alzheimers-diagnosis-has-agony-wont-let-become-dirty/ Then I wrote an angry, personal piece about how it feels when your marriage is invaded by a hideous befanged monster whom I named “Ms Alzheimer’s”. I published the latter on my website – the first of a series of weekly blogs which I wrote for the next 28 months until after Nick’s funeral in September 2019.
And that’s how my forthcoming book: The Alzheimer’s Diaries: a love story was born. It’s an edited compilation of those blogs. Unbound Publishing snapped it up as a project and we’re now crowd-funding the publishing costs. Here are the details: https://unbound.com/books/alzheimers-diaries/
And the story of how and why this project has evolved and developed will be continued in future blogs.