Friday, 13 November 2015

'What is writing to me?': A feature by author Louise Beech

World Diabetes Day takes place every year on 14 November. 

I would like to welcome Louise Beech to my blog today. Louise's book How to be Brave was published by Orenda Books on 17 September 2015. Her book is a powerful story based on her experience with her own daughter's diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes and the true story of her grandfather, Colin.

What is writing to me?
By Louise Beech

I read an interview once where the writer was asked, What is writing to you?  Naturally, I wondered the same.  What is writing to me?  Because really it’s such a personal thing, and means different things to different people.  For some folks, writing might be a hobby, a light pleasure.  For some, it might just be a job.  For others, escape, adventure, even therapy.  I think for me, it is definitely the latter.

And those three things came into play in a big way while I was writing the first draft of How to be Brave, my debut novel; because I approached such a hugely personal topic, one that I had never explored until then in great depth.  My daughter Katy’s Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis when she was seven.  And with World Diabetes Day on 14th November, it is very much on my mind again.

It was a horrible time.  That five-word sentence does little to explain how horrible.  But hopefully the novel manages to.  In it, I created fictional mum and daughter - Rose and Natalie - who are going through such a diagnosis.  Type 1 is a much-misunderstood condition, one often confused with Type 2, which sometimes (but not always) can be caused by a poor diet.  Type 1 Diabetes is never caused by the person eating too much sugar - it’s an autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks the pancreas and the cells that make insulin.  Injections are needed every day, forever.

But while I wanted to inspire and even educate, I didn’t want to bore readers with medical jargon or an overload of information, so I let Rose and Natalie tell their own story, in a book nook where they cope with multiple injections by bringing to life a long-gone ancestor.  Grandad Colin’s true sea survival runs parallel to their daily struggle, the two stories often very similar.  First and foremos,t I wanted the book to be an adventure, a magical tale of bravery and love.

While writing the first draft, I had a rigid routine with regards to the time I gave to it - five hours a day, every day except Sunday. But when it came to the structure of my words, I was less orderly.  I let them come as they must.  Fall into the white screen in a tumble of tears.  Yes, I cried a great deal, reliving pain I’d ignored for a long time.  Once it was out, I went back and harshly edited, sculpting and chipping away until I was happy with my work.

Writing is as much about editing as anything else.  I think the first draft is like the undercoat we use when decorating.  It’s needed in order for the later colours to shine best.

When thinking more about that interviewer’s question - what is writing to you? - it also occurred to me that I’m reaching out in my writing.  Saying all the things I’m not very good at saying; because I don’t explain very well or I’m too tongue-tied and nervous or get muddled with how I want to say it.  I was choked up when I wrote How to be Brave, filled with emotion.  But I was never tongue-tied, never got lost.  I realised it was an expression of love for my daughter, and that I should share it. 

So I did. 

Because I suppose it’s how I’m reaching out.  By writing.  It’s a way to be heard.  That’s what writing is.  It’s quiet, simple, and easy to me - and it’s so much louder than any shouts or screams or arguments or cries.  People listen when you write.  And you understand yourself better too.  Isn’t that the best reason ever to sit down at an empty screen?

So on World Diabetes Day, I’m hoping that How to be Brave might touch, inspire, educate or help another child going through a Type 1 diagnosis - or a parent having to witness it.  I hope I have written for you all, and written well.

About Louise Beech (pictured below with her daughter Katie)

Louise Beech has always been haunted by the sea, and regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012. She is also part of the Mums’ Army on Lizzie and Carl’s BBC Radio Humberside Breakfast Show.

Follow Louise Beech on Twitter - @LouiseWriter 

If you would like to learn more about diabetes, please visit the Diabetes UK website.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, thank you. This book definitely deserves a big audience!