In July 2017, my writer friend and now published best-selling author Louise Allan, invited me to write a piece for her popular blog series, Writers in the Attic. Louise is an inspiring writer and a champion for other writers, always encouraging and generous with her support. I wrote the following little piece about how I began writing. You can find out more about Louise and her beautiful debut novel The Sister’s Song, at https://louisejallan.com
As a child, I always thought that life should be fair. Someone once explained to me that it was because I’m a Libra. Others told me I just needed to accept that life isn’t fair. I disagreed with both, and learnt early on to channel my convictions quietly.
At the age of thirty-one, while pregnant with my second child, I received a phone call that I will never forget. I picked up the phone and looked out at the bright sky. It was just another yellow Spring day. My sister was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. She said the word ‘chemo’ but I still had to ask, ‘So it’s cancer then?’ The news settled in me like a bomb and the following three years were marked by infinite suffering and determination.
After many failed treatments, we received the prognosis. Six weeks. That was all she had left in this world, to watch her two children grow, laugh and cry, or misbehave. Six more weeks for me to look at her thinned pale face, hear her pained voice, and watch her breathe. Six more weeks until goodbye. So, I stopped working, and became her carer. In the quiet, dark coldness of my sister’s house, I watched and waited, clinging on to time, hoping to keep her with us, and yet hoping for her suffering to end. But the weight of it was too much. I couldn’t hold it in. Day after day in the silence, the front gate of my sister’s house creaked and clanged, again and again, teased by the wind, but never able to close. I hated that sound, marking time too loudly, but it was the trigger that set me writing.
At home, in the quiet of my study, I found my voice and spilled my emotions on to the page. My grief and anger at the injustice of it. Why her? Why at 33? Why with two young children? Maybe they were right, after all. Maybe I should simply accept that life isn’t fair.
From my despair, I wrote 80,000 words about my sister’s incredible survival, and found a love and need to write as a way of communicating all the things that I couldn’t say.
Time ticked on, as did my mind. I finished my story and felt lost without words to write.
Then, one morning around the time of the Lindt Café Siege and the Charlie Hebdo attacks of 2014-2015, I woke from an abstract dream about a government driven by fear, zero tolerance and control of women’s bodies. It is a future that I don’t want to see. And so, I began writing another story, the injustice my fuel. Little did I know, two and a half years after commencing this manuscript, a Trump presidency would bring about renewed attacks on human rights, women’s rights, and reproductive rights, inching my story one step closer to reality.
I don’t know where my writing will take me, or where my words will end up, but I will keep on writing, for the love and challenge of it, because there are injustices that I’m not willing to simply accept, and because writing is a strong voice spoken quietly.
I’m a scientist, I don’t believe in horoscopes, and my sister is still cancer free.