I should first of all say, that the novel I’m working on now isn’t exclusively about suicide. But The Mom is correct, I do have a book called ‘Notes on Suicide’ and it is quite a handy little volume. It’s not a how-to guide, which the author points out in the forward, but rather a look at some of the issues involved in suicide — like depression. It was a wonderful and thought-provoking book. And pointed me in the direction of other, very interesting books. One in particular about manic depression that was fascinating to read.
Since the new work centres around an elderly couple, I also went along to meet someone who works at Age UK, which is a charity here that is absolutely fantastic. They’re able to help you – or your loved ones – with the confusing business of coping when elderly.
I booked in an hour’s meeting with someone there, announcing first off that I was a novelist and wanted to ask some questions for background research. I’m always a bit nervous about doing this, but it’s important – the character, plot, setting, all of it has to be plausible and preferably probable — otherwise I may as well just tell stories about my imaginary menagerie. Though my grammy was in a care home, that was back home in Canada, and I wasn’t really aware of the finer points. I went to visit, and that was about it.
I was nervous about outing myself as a novelist for fear of appearing in any way insensitive to the challenges Age UK exists to help people with. If anything, I am very sympathetic, and indeed that’s possibly what motivated me to write about elderly folks. But it’s a bit unusual when you go to someone’s work and say, ‘Yes, well, I’d like to make these people nearly destitute so that they will be full of despair and be forced to consider extreme measures’. How could I do that?
Surprisingly, the chap I met with, himself a writer, didn’t bat an eyelash. ‘Great that you’ve come here. We’re struggling getting people to understand the poverty that can come with old age. I reckon there are three great options for inflicting a life of poverty on your characters.’
It’s lovely when you find a really sympathetic ear.
The Mom however… slightly less sympathetic. Well, perhaps that’s a bit extreme. It’s not that she’s unsympathetic, it’s more that she doesn’t understand why I feel compelled to write such, as she is wont to call them, depressing stories.
It does nothing to help my argument when I point out that life is generally awful with bouts of ‘oh, that was quite nice ‘mixed in just to keep you from topping yourself. Though, this preference for things that are a bit depressing is something she’s always complaining about.
Whenever I suggest a film we might see, or a book she might enjoy, the first thing she asks is, “Yes, but is it depressing? I know you like things that are bleak.”
“I suppose that depends on your perspective. I think it’s life-like, so you’ll probably find it depressing.”
“Why is it that you cannot write, watch, or read things that are funny? You’re so funny, I don’t see why this is a problem,” The Mom would say, quite exasperated at my wilfulness.
“Well, it’s not that I can’t, I mean, I suppose I could, but you know, I’m sure old people can be funny.And it’s not like it’ll be all doom and gloom. There will be love, joy, light! But there will come a point when things take a turn.” I would not add that The Mom might be considered by some to be… Well. I wouldn’t. That’s all.
The Mom might then perk up and stab at something in the paper. “Look! This looks like a lovely heart-warming film.” She’ll thrust the paper under my nose and Ill look at it. To me, it will look unrealistic, schlocky even.
“But you insist upon violins and sugar-sweet endings,” I’ll whine. “I find them difficult to believe.”
“Why?” The Mom will cry. “How is it that I have raised such a grumpy daughter with a miserable outlook?!”
“I wouldn’t take it personally. I’ve had the internet for years and have been watching, first hand, civilisation dive into a cesspit of despair.”
“But there are funny dog videos!”
“Yes, but sometimes that is not enough,” I’ll say, soulfully getting up from the table, and shuffling off to my room with my books on ageing and depression and suicide.
I suppose other parents might worry about such reading habits in their daughter, but not The Mom. She’s used to this sort of thing from me. Which is good because otherwise…. Well, Im sure she’d revoke my passport and force me to watch the Women’s channel with her all day.