Seven years in the writing, my memoir, Am I Still a Mother? recounts the loss of my two adult sons, and my journey since. The first chapter describes how my life, and the lives of all my family, changed when my older son was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. The book traces my journey into, through and beyond motherhood, and explores the challenge to my identity when, having been a mother for forty years, I no longer had children. I had become a childless parent.
I came to creative writing late in life, although I had written for business throughout my career. From that experience I learned that writing had the power to absorb me. When I was in the flow, hours passed without my noticing. I knew too that the documents I created were well received, earning several excellence awards.
My first forays beyond work were into short stories, as I explored the transition from factual to creative writing. Before long, I realised that my own life contained more drama than anything I could invent. From that point on, I focussed on the genre of creative nonfiction; memoir specifically.
Three strands intertwined during this period: recalling and processing what happened; developing my craft as a writer and drafting my book. The first of these proved challenging. I stalled, putting off some chapters for months, turning my attention to easier sections. Writing authentically about feelings involves, to some extent, reliving the trauma. Yet as important as it is to describe the emotion in the moment, I heeded the advice to write from the scar, not from the wound. It is the rebuilding, the perspectives developed over time, which create a satisfying narrative arc for the reader, a message of inspiration, that despite encountering severe trauma, a fulfilling life can emerge.
My book is not aimed solely at those who have lost loved ones but touches more broadly on loss and how we recover. It could be the loss of career, or relationship, of one’s health or home, especially when the loss fundamentally shifts how you define yourself. I have feedback too that my book is as gripping as a novel, a page turner, so it can be read simply as story; a story which just happens to be true.
Am I Still a Mother was released at the end of October 2020. If I have any advice to offer other writers, it would be ‘Don’t launch your book during a pandemic’. Lockdown restrictions here in the UK have limited many of the promotional activities I had planned. Even so, I am happy with the sales to date, and more so with the feedback I receive from readers, either posted on Amazon or sent to me directly on social media. Gratifying as comments on the quality of my writing are, given the time I have invested in developing my craft, it is when people tell me my book has inspired them or helped them cope with difficulties in their own lives that I gain most satisfaction.
As lockdown eases, I will be dividing my time between promotion for this book and work on a memoir covering the ten years I spent in 1970s Algeria. I have five chapters written, initially penned as back story for my current publication, but dropped to focus on my key themes of motherhood, identity, loss, and recovery. This second memoir will explore issues of cultural difference.
A Northerner by birth, I moved to the south of the UK many years ago and have settled near Reading, a town forty miles to the west of London. My modest house is in a lovely setting, on the site of an old manor house, and approached by an impressive avenue of Wellingtonias, relatives of redwoods, and named for the Duke of Wellington whose country estate is near here. The pandemic lockdown has clipped my wings, but I love to travel and have covered many long-haul destinations, travelling solo or with a small group. Highlights have been snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, star gazing under the crystal-clear sky at Uluru and climbing to the Sun Gate above Machu Picchu. I enjoy being within reach of London and visit there for theatre, art exhibitions, live music, shopping or the general buzz and atmosphere.
My thanks to Elizabeth Schultz and Author’s Lounge for the opportunity to share my writing journey.
My book is available on multiple platforms internationally. Here are the links for:
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Am-Still-Mother-Surviving-Cruellest/dp/1800460341
Contact me on Twitter @HelenBouchami