This started as a blog. When did you realise you had something more substantial than that? And was it your idea to turn it into a fully-fledged book?
I had never intended to write a book about my life after Mark’s death. By its very nature, blogging has a contiguity which is, I think, impossible to achieve in a book. For this reason, Wife After Death was the perfect outlet for my grief, as it allowed me to write exactly how I was feeling at that moment, send it out into the ether and wait for someone to reply to reassure me that I wasn’t losing my mind.
And people did reply – increasingly, as time went on. But after a while there was a shift. People began looking to me for advice on how I coped in the early days. They confided in me too, sharing stories, thanking me for expressing what they were too ashamed to admit themselves. I found it helped me a great deal to know that I was helping others – it was evidence of how far I’d come on my own ‘journey’ and made me feel less alone.
It was my agent who came up with the idea for a book. She read the blog and saw how it resonated with people. She saw its potential to help others in the same position, as well as offering an insight into grief for those who weren’t necessarily bereaved. The challenge was to maintain the integrity of the blog within a longer narrative.
The use of the capital letter when you write He or His in reference to Mark is very touching. What made you decide on this device?
When I first started the blog I wrote anonymously, and referred to Mark as ‘M’. I was sharing some pretty raw stuff and, being emotionally very vulnerable, I wasn’t sure enough of myself at that time to fully reveal my hand. The use of the ‘H’ happened as a consequence of the ‘M’. As I wasn’t giving him a proper name, I figured I’d make a thing out of the pronoun! When I wrote the book, it stuck. I also think it bestows a reverence upon Mark that he deserves… After all, he was a very special man!
Much of the narrative drive of this book is elemental and straight from your soul. But writing is, by necessity, a technical business too. Was it difficult to wear a ‘professional’ hat when you were polishing prose that deals with such powerful emotions and experiences?
There were certainly moments when I grappled with the inevitable ‘business’ side of writing the book. Emotionally, the writing was very draining, and to be asked to ‘just expand on that bit’ or ‘include a scene about X here’ sometimes made me question my purpose. Fortunately, such was the strength of the belief in me and the book by Kate Moore, my editor, and indeed the whole team at Virgin, these moments were few and far between. They handled me with great sensitivity and worked hard to ensure that I felt as comfortable as possible with any ‘polishing’. I also, of course, had ‘the cavalry’ of family and close friends who kept me focused if I was ever in doubt.
How much catharsis is in these pages? If you hadn’t written them, at what stage might you be now in the mourning process?
It was my bereavement counsellor who first suggested I write the blog. She knew I was a writer and that I found solace in words, and at that particular time I was having real difficulty in seeing a way through the despair. Writing the book, therefore, was an extension of this ‘therapy’. A reason to be immersed in writing, thinking, grieving all day, every day, for three months. Most people who are in mourning do not have the opportunity to intensely scrutinise their grief in this way. The time it took to complete the book was undoubtedly an essential part of the healing process. I don’t like to think about where I might be now were it not for the written word.