My debut novel Invisible Ink tells the story of London lawyer Max Rivers who seems to have it all: a successful career, a beautiful girlfriend, an exclusive address. But Max harbours a long-buried secret that threatens to destroy his carefully constructed world. He is haunted by the disappearance of his younger brother Peter when the two of them were children and for which he feels responsible.
It has a small dementia thread that draws on my experiences with my own mother, who lived with the condition for the last decade of her life.
It’s a work of fiction of course, and was written some time before I began to write about dementia. What strikes me, reading it now, is how guilty I felt then, and still do, about my dear old mum and how I coped (or failed to cope) with her condition.
The story is written through Max’s eyes during two periods of his life: the accomplished professional he is now and the five-year-old boy he once was, deeply affected by the arrival of his baby brother and his dad walking out soon afterwards.
The blurb describes it as “a mesmerising novel of guilt, loss and betrayal within a family – of sibling jealousy that threatens to run out of control, of a mother’s life all-but forgotten through the fog of dementia and of a son who longs to, but cannot, escape his past. Invisible Ink offers a deft exploration of the complex emotions hidden beneath the surface of all our lives; drawing its readers into Max’s story and leading them, step by careful step, towards its inevitable dénouement”.
I hope you enjoy it. According to some of the reviews, others seem to have done! Here are just a few:
“As a reader I was especially struck by the vivid way the descent into dementia was written” – Goodreads.com
“Invisible Ink is a haunting and moving debut that excels at drawing attention to dementia in a thought-provoking way, while at the same time providing a fantastic emotional read”. – Lovereading.co.uk
“The authors writing style and her use of vocabulary is poetically awesome – and her grasp and understanding of dementia so accurate – I could almost be reading about my own mother who sadly passed from this dreadful disease a year ago” – Amazon review
“When the author details the guilt and emotional struggle the lead role has with regards to his Mother’s dementia it is subtle and honest”. Amazon review
Over the years my articles and short stories have appeared in countless national newspapers and various websites. Of the selection below, some are scanned and are best viewed by clicking on the title and then clicking the diagonal arrow, top right, in order to read them.
Sister Love – www.totally4women.com
The Small Miracle – www.totally4women.com
Golden Girl – www.totally4women.com
Jack’s Honour– The Sunday Express S Magazine
Tess – The Sunday Express S Magazine
Jubilee Party – The Sunday Express S Magazine
The Corridor – The Sunday Express S Magazine
The Invitation – SW Magazine
Dementia stole my mother from me, but also revealed a shocking truth – The Sunday Telegraph Stella magazine, December 2014
German centres bring lonely older people and children together – Guardian, October 2014
http://www.openforumevents.co.uk/real-innovation-dementia-care-support/ Guest blog for Innovations in Dementia conference, Barbican, July 2014
Will the G8 dementia summit improve care in the UK? – The Guardian, December 2013
Who’s really at fault over care for the elderly? We are – Thunderer column, The Times, June 2013
Big Fairies and M&S suits: a Hansard reporter reveals all – The Spectator, January 2013
Please let doctors help the dying as they did my family – Thunderer column, The Times, November 2012
The ‘soul midwives’ who help the dying pass away with dignity – The Sunday Express S Magazine
A Priceless Treasure, my IVF baby – The Sunday Express S Magazine
Lest we forget: There can be light in the darkness for those affected by dementia – The Sunday Express S Magazine
My father saved all his life – but was failed by the NHS – The Sunday Telegraph, March 2010
Dementia: The longest cruellest goodbye – Sunday Express S magazine, 2006 – the first piece I wrote on the subject, chronically how my mum’s dementia affected, not just her, but our whole family
How interesting that, though this is by far my most important role, gives me the greatest rewards and takes up the majority of my time and emotion, there is little that I can insert in my site, other than pictures, to show you all this.
From time to time I will tap out a few words about Emily – and Bert. With their permission of course and no doubt heavily censored.
The Mum Tab
Posted on 7 May in Blogs
As part of my website revamp I’d previously intended to ditch the Mum tab (now gone) which – despite my best intentions – was hardly ever used. The fact was I now blog almost exclusively about dementia. It was only because the very basic framework of my website wouldn’t allow me to replace the Mum tab with my new photo that the tab remained at all. A decision based entirely on the look of the home page.
Yet, with uncanny timing, as thoughts about my online persona swirled in my head, quite separately it was dawning on me that my one and only daughter would soon be leaving home. This September, Emily – who, quite frankly, was in short socks and braces only yesterday – is off to university. My maternal nest will be empty. My Mum tab redundant, you might say. And yet … time for a deep and steadying breath. The thought of our house without Emily is unthinkable.
Eighteen years after my husband and I received the call telling us that, finally, against all the odds, our fourth attempt at IVF had worked and we two were to become three, we will be two again. Bert the cockapoo notwithstanding.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are many things – such as regaining sole possession of my cashmere cardigans and not lying awake till the early hours with one ear cocked for the turn of her key in the lock – that I’m looking forward to once my girl has flown the coop.
What I simply cannot comprehend is where the 18 years have gone and how my life can ever readjust itself. For Emily’s lifetime, my world – for good or bad (and believe me, we’ve had our moments) – has revolved around her.
Since she was placed, kicking and screaming, into my arms one warm June afternoon in 1998 (it was 4.15pm, she weighed 7lb 7oz), my focus has shifted onto her, my gaze – once turned towards my husband and my wider, working and social life – has always really, secretly, subconsciously, been bent on her. And ever since that day, my daughter’s highs and lows, her laughter and tears, her hurt and joy and triumph and disaster, have been mine too.
Her first day at primary school. That longed-for time to myself suddenly somersaulting into a panic-inducing, shallow-breathed awareness that my little, often irksome, shadow wouldn’t be with me the whole time any more. How quickly these things happen. From nappies to Startrites to vertiginous stilettoes in the blink of an eye.
Even then, 13 years ago, she was independent. I stood rooted to the playground’s tarmac, swallowing hard, as she skipped off behind Miss Mary without so much as a backward glance.
And what about Gerald the Giraffe, her constant companion for years and years? That stuffed toy animal crossed continents with us, entertaining ochre-covered tribesmen in the Masai Mara and Egyptian waiters in Red Sea resorts. He had his own deckchair, his own designer shades. He had his own handmade passport for God’s sake, which customs officials, depending on their state of mind, would sometimes stamp.
Emily also had two imaginary friends called Agar and Ollie, with whom she’d conduct lengthy conversations in the back of the car. When one of them died, I had to deal with the funeral of my daughter’s invisible, non-existent but very much loved chum. It was a tricky one, that, and called on every ounce of my existential creative juices.
She had a Barbie phase when everything she owned was pink. She climbed Glastonbury tor in high-heeled, plastic Barbie sandals. She catapulted over the front of her micro-scooter and landed face down in the concrete. Her front teeth slowly turned brown. It was very distressing. But it transpired that, being baby teeth, they were simply bruised. They went white again before falling out, leaving her with that wonderful, best-of-all, gap-toothed look that makes your adult heart turn over.
She went off to big school on the big school coach. The first day, as the two of us waited for the W4, an old-fashioned red London double-decker loomed into view. The W4 was out of action, so Emily’s first ever solo ride to school was in a Party Bus – it was written in great big letters on the front. I walked home happily. It was a good omen, I said to myself.
And mostly, it was. At times she’s worked too hard and played too hard. One minute she was learning to ride her two-wheeler bike, the next she was sticking L plates onto our car. Our house has never quite recovered from her teenage parties. But nowadays every time I yell at her for nicking my favourite lipstick, my husband quietly reminds me that soon she’ll be gone.
“She’ll be back”, my mum friends tell me. Of course she will. But the truth is it won’t ever be quite the same.
Come the autumn, in the evenings the house will be empty (Bert and my husband’s 18-hour working days notwithstanding). My daily structure of almost two decades will have gone. I won’t hear the door bang, the thud of her feet as she runs up the stairs or the theme tune to Friends on its never-ending loop. I won’t walk into her bedroom and fume at the unbelievable mess.
So, being Irish (and superstitious) I can’t tell you how pleased I am in retrospect that style trumped content when it came to my blog. Emily may be becoming an adult in the eyes of the world; she may be leaving home in just a few months, but she’ll always be my daughter. Mum tabs are never really redundant.
Posted on 14th February 2014 in Blogs
First up was some great news involving my daughter Emily. Modesty, and the threat of being disowned as her mother, prevent me elucidating further; suffice to say, my current husband (I’ve been married before and like to keep this one on his toes) and I are both astounded and inordinately proud of our girl. CH and I were, and remain, amazed that someone carrying our genes could be so talented and clever, but there we are. That’s life. And you’ll have to use your imagination to work out what it is Emily’s accomplished. The upshot was, my Tuesday afternoon turned, in the blink of an eye, from wet and gloomy to heart-thumpingly glorious.
Second up, CH and I attended a wedding. For the first time in several years. Gone are the days of one a weekend. Any minute now we’ll be off to celebrate the nuptuals of some friend’s child and I will have to admit that I am well and truly past it. We dolled ourselves up and headed off to Tetbury’s imposing Georgian Gothic church of St Mary the Virgin and St Mary the Magdalene, with its original high-backed box pews and romantic, candlelit interior.
I’d forgotten the rustling expectation of a wedding congregation as it waits for the bride, the turning heads, the murmured whispers and sudden exclamations as old friends catch each other’s eye. Weddings – big, bursting at the seams church weddings such as this one – brim with hope. Two lives on the verge of a vast expanse of something new. The last three times I’d been to church were for funerals, one of them, my mum’s. Each had provided its own solace, its tribute for a life well lived, its comforting rhythms, rituals and hymns.
But a marriage is different: in place of muted reflection is laughter, in place of a stiff whisky, a flute of fizzing champagne. Weddings buzz with happiness, Jo Malone perfumes the air and optimism pervades it. Only the stoniest of hearts could fail to be affected – an old softy like me was a goner.
The third event was altogether different: a trip to the Young Vic for Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days”. For anyone not familiar with this most Beckett of Beckett plays, its title is ironic. The lights go up – fiercely and unrelentingly – on a middle-aged woman (that’ll be me again) buried up to her waist in sand.
There are as many interpretations of Happy Days as there are grains of sand on its stage beach but mine, taken three days after the wedding and a week after Emily’s very good news, was to see it as an honest if brutal examination of the human condition. Winnie burbles away – it is, after all, all she can do – to her husband Willie, who is hidden behind a rock and rarely responds. As well as being able to talk the hind leg off a donkey, Winnie possesses another very female attribute. Her bag. From it, throughout the play, she withdraws a toothbrush, a comb, a lipstick, a music-box, a nail-file, a bottle of medicine and, chillingly, a revolver, on which she bestows a compulsive kiss.
I was fascinated by these items. Apart from the gun, which I saw as Winnie’s only true friend in that it offered her a means of escape, what did the others represent? A woman’s life? If so, how startlingly sad. But despite her lot, Winnie refuses to be defeated. Despite sinking ever further into the sands of time (by the second Act she is buried up to her chin) despite the scorching sun, despite the loud and jarring siren that announces the start and finish of each “day” (the sun never dims and there is no night), she prattles away, her words providing a veneer of brittle bonhomie to cover the pain of her circumstances. Occasionally she sings a snatch of a song. She is an eternally optimistic woman literally stuck in a rut, a “hopeful futilitarian” to coin Robert Brustein’s clever phrase. Is she, in exaggerated form, merely every woman? Good golly, it was all a bit deep and I left the theatre with plenty to think about – mainly, was I Winnie?
As if to rescue me from the terrifying bleakness of Beckett’s play and remind me of the joy that is Emily and the hope of the newlyweds, I had a dream. Walking along our unremarkable London road of Victorian houses I looked up into a pale sky washed with rain and saw the foot of a rainbow planted at the T junction. This part at least was true. Rainbows are one of the few advantages of the storms battering us at the moment and a few weeks ago I stood and marvelled as one arced over our street before continuing on my way. In my dream I ran towards the fluttering end of this huge arch of colours, reached up and pulled it down. It had the coarse, heavy texture of a thick scarf and its wide, stripy tail was fraying. I can still feel the fabric curled in my fingers and its strong force pulling on my shoulders. I’d caught it! Achieved the impossible. Captured a rainbow.
Of course I immediately woke up. But the sensation remained, reminding me of the extraordinary impossibility I’d held in my hands.
And this, surely, is life. The thread of it, the rope of experiences, good and bad, high and low, hopeful and abject, that form our time on earth and make us who we are. More and more, as I talk to and write of those facing fears, traumas, illness and hardship the like of which I’ve never known, I’m struck by their almost inhuman resilience. It’s as if, forced to confront the worst, they savour the best. A common refrain is, “I take each day as it comes” or “I live for each day”. They teach me such a lot. Under the searing glare of an unrelenting sun, Winnie still hopes. She looks in the mirror and brushes her teeth, and when she can’t even do that, she sings.
Posted on 18 April 2014 in Blogs
A Priceless Treasure, my IVF baby – The Sunday Express S Magazine