The Rest Is Silence

*Trigger alert – talk of suicide and depression*

What terrible news to wake to, that Robin Williams lost his battle with depression. I write it like that on purpose, rather than ‘he took his own life.’ He didn’t. Depression and addiction took his life.

I have read so many heartfelt posts and social media statements this morning, saying ‘what a waste’ and ‘if only he’d sought help.’ And I can’t help but feel the need to defend his actions. He clearly did seek help, just as a cancer patient will seek the best care. But sometimes it isn’t enough.

My father died of pneumonia when he was 58, after battling cancer for several years. I believe part of him gave up the fight. But no one would say he took his own life, or blame him for refusing to live with the pain anymore. We think depression can always be treated but sometimes the drugs don’t work. Therapy doesn’t work. Knowing the world loves a version of you that maybe isn’t the complete you surely makes it worse. Knowing you bring joy to millions but not to yourself. I can only imagine how lonely and painful that might be.

So I will mourn his loss, and celebrate his greatness, and hope his suffering may cause others to seek help and live to celebrate another day. I hope people will recognise Depression for the debilitating illness it truly is, rather than a weakness of character.

Many speak of failed suicide attempts giving them new life and new purpose, and I am glad that is true. Matt Haig often writes of surviving suicide and I am grateful he lived to pour his pain and experience into The Humans. But how many more woke determined to try again? There should be no blame, only an attempt at understanding. Robin Williams battled an illness and lost.

Rest in eternal peace, Robin Williams, I hope you have defeated the dark dog within and can walk free.

The Humans: 2013 365 Challenge #336

A very profound book

A very profound book

I finally started reading, and very quickly finished, The Humans by Matt Haig this weekend. If you haven’t come across the story (goodness knows how, as it flooded Twitter for a while during its release) it tells the story of an alien who comes to halt mathematical progress on Earth because Humans are deemed too violent to take the next step in technological evolution.

I was drawn to the book by its Twitter campaign and because I just happened to have read and enjoyed an early children’s book by the same author. The social media campaign was something truly incredible, with a lovely video trailer made by lots of different real people reciting lines from a part of the book called Advice for a Human (see picture below)

I started following Matt Haig’s blog, Twitter and Facebook, and found him to be a fascinating person, full of self-doubt and amazing insight, with a history of depression and attempted suicide. I couldn’t wait for the book to be released. I bought it in hardback (a thing I never do) and then bought the kindle version as well because I wanted to take it on holiday. That was in May of this year.

Since then I’ve tried to start it half a dozen times, but I just couldn’t get into it. The narrative voice is the alien, and the tone was so stilted and disinterestedly miserable, it put me off, even though I knew it was part of the story. Then, too, I started to feel pressure to love the book. Because the reviews were amazing, and because I liked the author as I came to know him through social media, I wanted to like the book, and felt bad that I didn’t. I had invested time and emotion into supporting its release and its author.

And then, worse of all, I started to disagree with some of what the author said on Facebook, and my faith took a wobble. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a great deal recently, and is probably a topic for another blog post – about how our perception of a piece of art or literature changes when we come to know more about the author and was it maybe better when the author was hidden in mystery and unknowable. Anyway, as I say, that’s another post.

Some of the great advice (better read in context)

Some of the great advice (better read in context)

As a result of the emotional (and financial!) investment, though, I couldn’t give up on the book. So I started again on Friday, and couldn’t put it down. I read it with my fingers in my ears, while the kids decorated the Christmas tree. I finished it at 2am last night, leaving me groggy and grumpy for today’s family lunch. No matter: it was worth it. This is my (rather short) Goodreads review:

“It took me a long time to get into this story, after wanting to read it for months. I’m glad I persisted, it was so worth it. This is a deeply profound, yet funny and entertaining book, full of pearls of wisdom you’ll be desperate to share with people.”

As I read the story, I kept reading bits out to hubbie, much to his bemusement (that never works, especially when the recipient is playing Candy Crush or similar). It’s full of Tweetable bits of goodness. I could feel the author, and what I knew of his history, in every line, and it added to the authenticity, although I suspect it wasn’t necessary. The story rings true by itself. I wanted to find a nugget to share here, but there are so many. Instead I would say, read it. Even if, like me, you can’t warm to the alien and you find him annoying in the extreme. He grows on you. And it’s a book that will stay with you long after you read the last page. As an author I always think you can’t ask for more than that.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“Thank you for letting us stay, Nana.” Alex’s voice wobbled between child and adult, as he gave Claire’s mum a rather formal embrace.

His face still showed the pallor of expended emotion; pale and drawn despite the tan he’d gained during his time in the South West. Claire wanted to pull him into a proper hug, one with feeling. The greeting they’d got from her parents was lukewarm at best.

I guess I wouldn’t like it if someone turned up on my doorstep and asked me to take in house guests. She thought about it and her lips twisted into a wry smile. Mind you, it’s no more than both my siblings have done to me this year. Suddenly Auntie Claire is the only one with all the time in the world.

She pushed away the bitter feelings, and turned to make sure Jack was alright. He’d been less affected by their father’s announcement, chattering excitedly on the long journey from Cornwall to Cambridgeshire. As they had neared their destination, however, he had become more subdued and, since their arrival, he had hovered in the background.

A quick glance showed her he wasn’t in the room and she went in search of him, leaving Alex to forge a stilted conversation with his nana. Her father, Claire noted, had also disappeared and Claire felt disappointed at his cowardice.

She found them both, eventually, hidden in her father’s study.

“There you are!”

Her voice made them jump and their faces flushed with guilt. She concealed a smile at how like naughty schoolboys they both looked, despite a gap of half a century between them.

“What are you two up to? You’ve left Alex battling on with Nana.”

“He’ll be fine,” Jack said brightly, “he’s good at charming the old biddies.” Then he realised what he’d said, and blanched.

Claire’s dad laughed – a loud guffaw – as much at Jack’s stricken expression, it seemed, as at his words.

“Don’t worry, son, your secret is safe with me. Your nana can be a tough nut to crack, but she’s soft underneath.”

Claire privately wondered if that were true, but said nothing. “So, what are you two doing?” She perched on the edge of the desk and looked at them with one eyebrow raised, her arms folded across her chest in an expression of severity that was all act. Seeing Jack locked away with her father gave her a warm glow of satisfaction, but there was a game afoot and she was prepared to play her part.

“Pops was showing me his book. Did you know he’d written a novel, Auntie Claire?”

Claire switched her gaze from Jack’s eager excitement to the look of sheepish guilt on her Dad’s face. “Is it finished then? I thought it was a thriller? It doesn’t sound like something a young boy should be reading.”

“Oh, Claire, I’m not a baby. I’ve read James Herbert and Stephen King.”

“Really?” Claire was genuinely shocked. Even she didn’t have the stomach for some of the more gruesome horrors. She wondered if she should forbid Jack from reading books liable to give him nightmares. Then she looked at his face and had a flash of realisation. Whatever difficulties in Jack’s life, he had yet to experience real fear and horror and so the stories were just stories. They probably had less impact on him than on an adult who could read the truth behind the fabrication.

Suddenly she grinned. “That’s amazing, Dad. I’m so proud of you. Can I read it, too?”

Her dad’s grin was as wide as hers. “I thought you’d never ask.”

*

Back in the lounge, Claire saw that Alex was manfully trying to engage her mum in conversation, and her heart went out to him. Even she struggled to find a topic of interest when talking to her mum.

As she walked in, her mum looked up, and her expression was honey-laced venom. Startled, Claire took a moment to gather herself, then said,

“Jack and Pops are in the study, Alex. Why don’t you go and see if they’d like some tea and cake? It’s been a long time since lunch.” They had been offered nothing on arrival. If her mum wasn’t going to play host, then she would show her how it should be done.

Alex jumped up like a man given a reprieve on death row, and practically ran from the room.

“Okay, Mum, out with it,” Claire said, as she heard his footsteps retreating down the hall. Her words took the wind from her mum’s anger, and Claire had to swallow a laugh.

“I’m surprised you have to ask. You turn up, unannounced, with Robert’s boys in tow, and without so much as a by-your-leave tell me that they’re staying here for an undetermined length of time, because you saw fit to send their father home. I think you have some explaining to do, young lady.”

“I’m not a child, Mum, you don’t need to take that tone. Robert’s behaviour was unacceptable. He arrived two hours late, with a chit of a girl on his arm, and announced he was engaged to her. His treatment of the boys is disgusting and he’s so far up his own arse they have to ship in daylight.”

“Claire! Really!” Her mother’s face went pale. Then her expression changed and she became a frail old woman. When she spoke, her voice was querulous “I don’t know why you’re shouting at me; it isn’t my fault.”

For a moment Claire was almost fooled. But not quite. “Oh, give over, Mum. Quit playing games, I’ve had enough of that from Robert.” She wanted to add that yes, it probably was her fault, at least in part. If she’d taken time to teach Robert some manners he might not be a total git. Realising such a discussion with her mother was an exercise in futility, she took a deep breath and controlled her temper with effort.

“Jack and Alex are your grandsons. You should be proud of them; they are amazing boys. If I could, I would keep them with me longer, but I have trespassed on Conor’s goodwill enough already. I’m only asking you to let them stay for a week; take them to see Ruth and Sky. Poor Jack doesn’t remember his cousin at all. They won’t be any trouble. I have money to buy their tickets, and I’ll contact Francesca and ask her to meet them at Stansted.”

Her mother’s face remained petulant and Claire snapped. “For God’s sake, Mum, don’t be such a cow. I know you couldn’t give a monkeys about me or Robert, and I doubt Ruth gets a look in now she’s got her life back on track, but this is your chance to make amends and be a decent human being. Why don’t you give it a try, you might find you like it?”

Before her mum could answer, Claire stalked from the room.

***

EBooks – A Retraction: 2013 365 Challenge #136

My long-awaited copy of The Humans

My long-awaited copy of The Humans

A while ago I wrote a post about how I would always choose the paper book over an e-reader (such as a tablet, nook or kindle). I was wrong. I bought an iPad two weeks ago and since then have read several books, more than I would have managed otherwise.

My long-awaited copy of The Humans has just arrived – a great big chunk of hardback – and I’m wondering why I didn’t buy the kindle edition. I just don’t know when I’m going to manage to read it. It’s too big to fit in my handbag, I can’t read it at bedtime because the bedside light is broken, and, well, it’s too beautiful to besmirch with toast crumbs and crayon.

We are going on holiday to Scotland next week and I know that The Humans will stay behind, even though I’m desperate to read it. It isn’t merely about packing room – although with two kids that’s pretty tight – it’s the fact that I won’t be able to read it discreetly while the kids are playing, or during the seven-hour trip in the car (for some reason I find I can read the iPad in the car, but not a paper book).

So, in all fairness, I thought I ought to confess my conversion and explain the reasons I love my iPad for reading:

  • I can read while still cuddling both children (with the occasional wriggle to turn the page)
  • I never ever have to find my place because the kids have removed the bookmark or it has fallen out. I turn it on and there it is – hours of reading time saved.
  • I can take it everywhere and read a bit while I’m waiting for a website to load or when the kids are asleep
  • The kids don’t notice me reading so much and so are less likely to bring one of their own books over to read (I didn’t say this was about good parenting, did I?)
  • I’ve already read at least one free book I would never have heard of otherwise. And it was lovely – not earth shattering or award winning but a lovely thought-provoking story
  • I can show people the books I’ve written when I tell them I’m an author, instead of explaining they’re not available in print
  • I can finally read all the ebooks I’ve downloaded over the last year
  • I can read at nighttime without waking my husband.
The Humans Kindle Version

The Humans Kindle Version

I also love the iPad too – for checking emails, taking pictures for the blog, entertaining the children (we’re busily downloading from bbc iplayer for the long trip north) – but that’s a different story!

I still find it hard to buy the kindle version when the paperback isn’t much more expensive. If I want to lend a book it has to be a hard copy. I continue to love borrowing books from the library and seeing books around me on the shelves. They are beautiful. But, here and now, the iPad rules! (Sorry)

And to prove how much I love my iPad, I’ve spashed some cash to buy the ebook version of The Humans. Problem solved. Matt Haig’s lovely book is coming to Scotland after all! Hurrah!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire was conscious of nerves as she waited on the doorstep. Things had been strained between her and Ruth since the revelations about Chris and the ballet teacher. Even so, it hurt to be saying goodbye to her sister and her niece. The week in the hospital, reading on the bed next to Ruth, entertaining Sky in the canteen or taking her to the park, had been strangely restful.

The week was spent encased in a cocoon of waiting: Ruth had responded well to treatment and the days were merely marking time until the doctors said she was strong enough to return home. Claire had enjoyed helping Sky complete the remainder of her homework. They had even written a letter to Sky’s father, although Claire had felt a stab of guilt, knowing she wasn’t brave enough to tell her sister about it.

Claire stood waiting for her mother or Sky to open the door. Even though she had stayed with Sky at her house for the week, now Ruth was home it felt impolite simply to walk in.

In the back of her mind she remembered the last time she had waited in the same spot, when she had come to look after Sky, the day of the hospital tests. Blimey that was nearly two months ago. In some ways it felt like only days before. In others ways, a lifetime had passed. She had experienced so much, travelling with Josh and looking after Sky. That morning’s conversation with her father still echoed in her mind.

How little we really know our family. Look at what I’ve discovered in a few weeks, that I hadn’t realised in nearly three decades: My brother and his perfect wife aren’t so perfect, Ruth’s ex isn’t a bastard but actually a doting dad, my father is writing a novel – a thriller for goodness sake – and hiding it from his wife. He hates golf. And Mum spends her time keeping up with the Jones’s to forget she used to be her husband’s secretary. You couldn’t make it up. We’re living an episode of Days of Our Lives.

Hearing footsteps thundering down the corridor, Claire braced herself for a whirlwind of blonde hair and beads. At least Sky hasn’t changed.

Claire held her sister tightly, aware only now of how awful it would be to lose her. She knew, too, that when Ruth was better they would never be quite as close as they were at this moment. Even the betrayal of introducing Sky to her half-sister was forgotten.

“Stay well, sis. Be strong. If you need anything, call me.” Claire spoke deep into her sister’s shoulder, where her hair would once have been. All that tickled her neck was the floral scarf tied tightly round Ruth’s head. Words that couldn’t be said face to face could be whispered cheek to cheek.

“You have an amazing daughter. Thank you for letting me get to know her better.” She stood back, tears blurring her vision. “I promise I’ll call more often, and I’ll stop by when I head south again. It won’t take long to get through the hostels on the east coast I didn’t get to with Sky.”

Ruth squeezed Claire’s arms, then let them drop as she reached for a tissue. “Thank you for everything, sis. Sorry I got upset about the whole Chris thing. I know you were in an impossible situation. And, well, if the worst does happen.” She stopped, unable to say the unthinkable words.

Claire was glad they remained unspoken. In the whole week she had spent in the hospital with Ruth, they had never talked about what might happen. While Ruth was responding to treatment it seemed like tempting fate to discuss the future.

“Try and enjoy your travels. I know it isn’t what you wanted, but you seem…” Ruth searched for a word. “You’re more alive, since you started the trip. When you looked after Sky in February you looked tight and tired and, I don’t know, somehow bitter at life. Now, well actually now you still look tired.” She laughed. They both knew what looking after Sky was like. “But it’s different. It’s a lack of sleep because my niece was up all night tired.”

The words seemed to run out and Ruth let them trail away. Even though the doctors had sent her home, she still looked exhausted. Claire gave her another hug, then turned to where Sky was snuggled up with Nana in the armchair, her face wet and blotchy.

“Come here, Sky, give Auntie Claire a cuddle.”

The girl hesitated, them scrambled down and ran across the room, sobbing.

“Don’t go, Auntie Claire. Please.”

“I have to poppet. I’m not ready to be fired just yet, and my mean old boss won’t let me take any more holiday.”

Sky clung tightly to Claire’s neck, and she was conscious of a warm sensation deep in her heart. She no longer wanted to shake her off.

“I’ll be back soon. You take care of your Mummy, okay, and do what Nana tells you. I’ll call and find out what your teacher thought of your story.”

Pulling the thin arms away from her neck as gently as she could, Claire took Sky’s hand and led her back to sit with Nana. Then with a quick wave and no more words, she hurried from the room, swallowing down the lump stuck deep in her throat.

***