My aunt wanted to get a book published for 30-odd years. Whenever I stayed with her as a child, I can remember her going up to her room from mid-evening: the tippety-tap of the typewriter, and in later years the keyboard, coming from behind the door. She wrote acres of fiction, from sci-fi to historical to romance and back again and often in combination. Her work ethic was remarkable. She took the knocks of rejection with little complaint. This was in the days when snail mail was the only way to submit to publishers, and many of them didn’t even reply to her letters. But that didn’t stop her. Nothing could. She kept on going.
For a number of years she worked for Bristol Museum, and had qualifications and a huge interest in Egyptology. She often lectured on the subject, and in recent years used her passion for history and research to write various non-fiction books, including a well received offering about Bristol and the Slave Trade. Finally she achieved her dream of being published through these texts, and while they were never likely to trouble the bestseller lists given the niche subject matter, it was brilliant to see things that she wrote in print, and to know that she was able to properly call herself a professional writer.
A few years ago, she got cancer and beat it. It didn’t affect her focus at all – she still devoted hours every day to her writing, even when she was working full-time.
But recently the cancer came back. Today I learnt that the doctors have told her it’s terminal. Its progress may be slowed using a cocktail of drugs which have hefty side-effects, but it’s past the point of no return.
Typical her, though – the disease might have beaten her, but the news hasn’t. It would have shattered me, but she’s still going on, looking forward to a trip to London on Wednesday, planning to go to Egypt in the autumn, and she even emailed me with an idea with a TV show at the end of last week, asking for my input.
It’s a strange thing, the concept of death. I’m thirty two years old and have been insulated pretty well from it, only ever having one close relative die at an age when I could remember it. I’ve only ever been to two funerals in my life. I think there’s a tendency for me to try to simply ignore the possibility and move on without confronting it. Maybe it would tell me too much about my own fears if I dwelled on it.
But I’ve been sitting here wondering tonight: is my own love of writing partly down to my aunt, to all the stories she read aloud to me as a child? To all the hopes and dreams she loved to discuss? It could well be. For even though our relationship has had its ups and downs in the past decade, I’ve always respected her drive and ambition.
Family and friends are really going through the wringer at the moment, emotions jumping from low to high and back again, even just in these first two weeks of April. Right now, there’s only one thought in my mind. I need to make my aunt proud of me, to show that whatever influence she had on me as a child actually led to something. Now I have another reason to get my novel published, then – so that she’ll see it. So that I can thank her. So that she’ll know what she did for me. And that I love her.