A Writer Who Cares, our July blog, is written by the crimewriter and historical novelist James Green, who founded our Writers as Carers Group, launched last month during National Carers Week.
A few years ago, just weeks before our youngest son’s wedding, Pat (my wife) missed her footing on a shallow step, fell, and broke her ankle. The new outfits in the wardrobe stayed there, instead she wore a jacket and skirt set off by a rather fetching royal blue plaster and she spent the wedding day in a wheel chair. The ankle mended but the fall produced an unexpected and more lasting effect – the onset of Dementia.
At the time I was in the midst of a five-book historical spy series for my publisher, Accent Press. Book three was all but written so I finished it and immediately went hell-for-leather into the fourth book (thank God the fifth existed in draft form). I went at it so soon and so hard because it was clear that as Pat’s condition deteriorated, my role as her carer was expanding and the time available for writing was growing less and less. Soon it would disappear altogether.
In those early days I could still get up between four and five and write for an hour or more, and so Never An Empire was finished and will come out this summer. Heaven alone knows how it will read. It’s set in the Philippines in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. The central character is an ambitious but guilt-ridden young priest and the plot revolves round lies and betrayal. How much of my personal angst got translated into the book I wonder? Probably quite a lot, which could mean that it could turn out to be either the best or worst of anything I’ve done. It will certainly be one of the very few of my books that I actually look forward to re-reading on publication!
These days Pat is active but demanding and writing anything other than a brief blog for my Facebook page seems out of reach for me. This article? Well, yes, but that’s different, it was asked for. What I mean is, I can’t see myself writing for publication in those areas where I have developed as a writer. It’s not for lack of projects waiting; Five for a Sergeant, The Windmill, From Hell to Hollywood, and I’ve tried to get going at least twice but although I can get started and have all I need in the way of characters, plot and place, I don’t seem to able to disconnect from daily life. I can’t spend enough or the right sort of time in my make-believe world living with my characters seeing what they’re up to.
Something else has happened as well. I’m now seen by my family and others as a full-time Carer. I even began to see myself that way. To some extent this was necessary given the time I spend with Pat but it was compounded by the volume of literature I was given to plough through together with the form-filling, medical appointments, visits of assessors and a host of other things all of which designated me as Carer.
Then there was my wellbeing. Everyone was concerned about that. But it was concern that I stayed well enough to do the caring - 'Pat relies on you now. Be sure you take care of yourself.' Okay, fine, I needed to look after myself, but it presented an interesting twist on the old conundrum; Quis consolatur consolatores? Who will care for the carers? Finding appropriate support, respite and ways of keeping physically and mentally strong takes a lot of time and effort, the very things I was short of.
I can only speak for myself, but while I am fully committed to looking after Pat I am not at all committed to disappearing as a person and a writer. A noble sentiment – but how do you set about seeing it doesn’t happen? That’s a damn good question and I didn’t have a damn good answer, so I went to the SoA. Did other members have the same or similar problems and if so could something be done to help? Needless to say they came up trumps. Write a blog about your own experience and ask:
If so, would you like to become involved in a new initiative to help you carry on writing and, hopefully, get meaningfully published? If the answer is 'yes' then stay tuned and look out for the following message, you're going to be hearing it a lot:
The Writers as Carer Group will develop over time, we may host events but there will be a members-only online discussion forum, which will be a place where we can share tips, advice and our writing. If you are interested in joining our mailing list, you can email Anna Ganley at AGanley@societyofauthors.org.
Crimewriter and historical novelist, James Green is the author of the Jimmy Costello crime series, Bad Catholics (shortlisted for a CWA Dagger in 2009), Stealing God and Yesterday’s Sins. James is currently writing the fourth book in a five-book series of historical espionage thrillers based on the history of the American Secret Service. Another Small Kingdom, A Union Not Blessed and The Eagle Turns are the first three books in this series, published by Accent Press.
Top Photo Credit: Pat Green