I am so happy to be a part of Book Week Scotland, even if only virtually living so far away, and I was incredibly pleased to be able to ask amazing lady Cathy Retzenbrink some questions about her emotionally resonant memoir “The Last Act of Love” – HUGE thanks to The Scottish Book Trust and Helen Croney for the opportunity. And of course the biggest thanks to Cathy for taking the time, it is much appreciated. Before you read it….
For those of you able to go, Cathy is taking part in an event as part of Book Week Scotland at Waterstones Dundee this coming Wednesday 25th November – Clickety click the link for details – one not to be missed.
The Last Act of Love must have been an incredibly emotional writing experience – Can you tell us a little about what made you decide to tell the story publicly?
Well, I didn’t really want to write the book at all and I kept trying to write novels but sooner or later – the furthest I ever got was chapter 7 – this story would start insinuating itself into the pages. It was a writer friend who suggested I spent a few months writing it out of myself. I thought it would end up in a drawer and then gradually realised it could be a book.
It is really moving and genuinely inspiring even through the sadness, what kind of response have you had from those who have read it, especially if they have also suffered loss?
One of the most brilliant things for me about writing the book is hearing from people who have read it. I’m moved and honoured by every bit of communication and I love people telling their stories. I’ve continued to learn things about my story by listening to other people tell theirs. I hear from a lot of bereaved siblings and a lot of people who have witnessed a long and complicated death. I like that in them telling me I’ve made them feel less alone, that they make me feel less alone. It’s a virtuous exchange.
I know a lot of memories surfaced – do you have one defining memory of your brother? If you don’t mind saying, what do you hold onto most?
It does feel like I have Matty back again. He was buried under the eight years of brain damage and I’d lost the essence of him. Now he’s very present. I think about him – his true self – a lot and he pops up in my head offering unsolicited advice, he’s always swearing and joking and taking the piss out of me. I realised how much I missed that. There’s a joy and security in a sibling relationship: you know they love you but they never let you get away with anything. We used to do this chin stroking – I’ve no idea where we’d got it from – as a response to insincerity or bullshit. You’d raise your eyebrows and stroke your chin as a way of saying, ‘Oh, come off it.’ I think about that a lot at the moment.
It is a hugely powerful use of words, something that will more than likely help a lot of other people, many you will never know about – does the fact that this is so help you as well?
Yes, hugely. I think the fact that I’ve managed to turn my pain into something that is useful to other people is a beautiful miracle. It makes me feel much better.
How has life changed for you since the book was released – and what is next up?
I’m still learning and thinking and working things out. The summer was hard, I drank too much and went a bit mad. I’m off the booze now, seeing a new therapist and feeling like I have a chance to create my life how I want it. I went to see Diana Athill speak recently who is 97. Realising that she is more than twice my age made me see there’s a lot of life out there for the living if I’m brave enough to try.
Thank you SO much. An absolute inspiration.
Purchase Information: Available now from Picador
There are lots of things going on this week – here is a handy link
Book Week Scotland: http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/book-week-scotland
More later this week on the blog when I interview Scarlett Thomas about her novel The Seed Collectors. She will be appearing Kibble Palace tomorrow, Tuesday 24th November. http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/about/events/scarlett-thomas-shares-the-secrets-of-the-seed-collectors
Happy Reading Folks!