Inspired by a loved one – Claire Allan

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By Claire Allan

One of the most common questions an author gets asked is “Where do you get your inspiration?”♥

It can be a very difficult question to answer. Sometimes inspiration comes from the most fleeting of moments – something caught out of the side of your eye. It can come from a snippet of an overheard conversation. It can come after hours, and hours, and days and days of brainstorming.

In the past my books have been inspired by a wide variety of things. When I wrote my first novel Rainy Days and Tuesdays – arguably the book of mine which is closest to my own story – I wanted to write about a mother struggling with her identity while overcoming post-natal depression.

My seventh novel was inspired by the true story of a couple I met during my day job as a newspaper reporter – who had fallen in love again after 50 years spent apart.

And my current book – Still You – was inspired by my grandmother and her battle with dementia. Although battle doesn’t seem like the right word. She has slipped away – although she is still with us.

My grandmother has been living with Alzheimer’s Disease for more than a decade. I don’t think we, as a family, ever thought that she would survive this long. She is so far removed now from the woman we knew and loved – but she is still there and while we struggle to cope with this most difficult of illnesses, we have to try and remember the person she was.

We have to remember she is still our loved one. She is not just a woman who has Alzheimer’s. She is a woman who lived a full and happy life. Who helped us create years of happy memories. Who was stern and scary when we needed to be, and who was loving and supportive when we needed that as well.

I’ve heard, perhaps, more stories about the woman my grandmother was since she took ill, but I’ll always regret that I’ll never be able to sit down and have those conversations with her myself – and ask her about her life, her years as a young mother, how she met and fell in love with my grandfather etc.

So I decided to write about a fictional character called Aine (her surname in the book is Quigley, which just happens to be my granny’s maiden name). I wrote first about the elderly Aine – facing her illness and looking back over her life with the help of her newly appointed cared Georgina.

I created the life Aine lived in her mid 20s – of the shy young woman she was, dedicated to her family and looking for love and a family of her own to raise. I wrote about the sacrifices she made – about how life took her in a direction she could never have anticipated and about how she paved her own way in a world that didn’t always understand the choices she made.

I wanted the character of Georgina to see her new charge as someone much more than a dementia patient – that she would come to see her a fully rounded, vibrant person –and I wanted the pair to learn from each other and become firm friends.

It was a hard book to write – not least because I wanted to make sure I did the illness, and all those who succumb to it, justice.

And I wanted, when the reader closed the last page, that the thing they remember most about the character of Aine was her spirit, her personality and her strength rather than her illness.

Still You is Claire Allan’s eighth novel. She lives in Derry with her husband and two children and writes a weekly column, Skirting the Issue, for the Derry Journal.

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