What has it been like to write my first book? Well, had it been as I had originally planned, a book about my field of expertise—the biological sciences—, the answer to that question would undoubtedly have been “hard work” and “a sense of accomplishment.” Job done. However, when I decided to stray into what for me was unchartered territory—creative nonfiction—, it stirred up many more emotions than this.
It was indeed hard work, as I spent six of my retirement years reminiscing about my past, placing significant events in order, poring through countless collections of old newspapers on microfiche in the Local Studies Library in Sheffield, England, composing typescript, editing, re-editing, and the list goes on. And yes, indeed, there is that sense of accomplishment when what looked at first to be a daunting task was finally done. However, because I was constantly being challenged in a very personal way while I was engaged in the book, more profound feelings surfaced.
I came to understand that my childhood was not all a dismal affair. My early childhood, especially, had a very rich texture to it and even when my home life was beset by turmoil and feelings of rejection, life had its lighter moments. While I will never fully understand the forces that caused each of my parents to lead the bitter and unsatisfying lives that they did, I recognize that, just like me, they are the product of their own upbringings and their DNA. The black and white, right and wrong world that I was brought up in is neither realistic, nor good for the soul. Moreover, my researching, thinking, and writing of this book has shown me that I, too, have plenty of those “if only” moments to bear. Had I not written this book and allowed these revelations to take hold of me, it is doubtful that I would ever have sought out and reconciled with my mother—and I would have been all the poorer for it.
More broadly, what came across to me loud and clear as I delved into my family history was the inadequacy of the health system in meeting the needs of people suffering from mental illness. Alas, I fear that very little has changed in this regard. If anything, this dreadful situation has worsened.
Yes, writing this book has led me on a personal roller coaster. But, it has also been an educational journey as I immersed myself in the news events of the 40s, 50s, and 60s and recalled what I was doing, where I was, whom I was with, etc.
Nostalgia. A fondness to look back.