When I went to the Dublin Writers’ Conference, I was asked to take part in a podcast interview for the Irish Writers Podcast. This has now been aired. I talked about all three of my books for about eight minutes. See https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-p6ygd-9449f6
Yesterday, I was interviewed by an author website run by Fiona McVie about my writing. Here is the full interview
Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie. Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
76 (in one week)
Fiona: Where are you from?
I never know how to answer that question. I was born in the US (Washington DC), spent my teen years in New York City, but married an Englishman and have lived in London since 1968.
Fiona: A little about your self (education, family life etc.).
I went to a mid-Western university and then took a ‘junior year abroad’ to London. There, I met an Englishman who I subsequently married and my life trajectory changed completely. After a period in the US, we moved to London, had two children and now also have two grandsons. We have been married 54 years and are closer and happier than ever.
I worked as a social researcher for many years, first in an academic setting, then a policy institute, and finally for myself, i.e. freelance. I particularly loved working for myself – I was a researcher/writer/editor/thinker for hire, which was a constant challenge as every job was a new one. I learned a great deal throughout.
Somewhere along the line, I did a PhD at the London School of Economics, so I am officially Dr Richardson, although I rarely use the title.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I was writing in every job I ever had, but especially as a researcher, where I needed to write up the results of interviews and other investigations. My first book was published by Routledge Kegan Paul in 1982, on the concept of public participation, a somewhat extended version of my PhD thesis.
Since then, I have published 11 books, but only three are currently ‘live’.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
During my working life, I considered myself a social researcher and writer, but when I retired and concentrated solely on writing, I decided to call myself a writer if anyone asked.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Of my three current books, the first was published (by HarperCollins) in 1992. Wise Before their Time is about people living with AIDS/HIV when it was a life-threatening disease.
The idea came from a discussion with a good friend who was running an international conference for people with HIV/AIDS in London. We carried out interviews with over twenty participants, whose honesty about living with the stigma and other difficulties of the disease was incredibly moving. I have only very recently re-launched this book with a new cover.
Sir Ian McKellen wrote a Foreword in which he said “these true stories are as powerful as any great classic of fiction”. You can’t get a much better quote than that, in my view.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Those interviewed, most of whom were under 40, were coping with facing their own death, rather like much older people. They had a wonderfully positive attitude to enjoying whatever remaining life they had, which I found inspiring. The title seemed apt.
Apple iBooks, Kobo etc https://www.books2read.com/u/3GYq8r
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I have a very particular style, because I write using passages from interviews, with only minor interjections from me (a bit like a TV documentary). All interviews are recorded and fully transcribed. Those interviewed, to whom anonymity is promised, invariably have important things to say – and say them clearly and often highly imaginatively. It makes reading each book feel like you are talking to a friend who is explaining something important to them in an honest and intimate way.
I have since published two further books in this style. One is about what it is like to work in end-of-life care, called Life in a Hospice (based on interviews with nurses, doctors and others working in hospices). This was published by Radcliffe Books in 2007 and was Highly Commended by the British Medical Association in 2008. It has a Foreword by the late Tony Benn, MP. I have recently re-launched this book, again with a new cover, and it is selling surprisingly well.
Apple iBooks Kobo etc https://www.books2read.com/u/bpWk0z
The other is about what it is like being a grandmother, because I find it a fascinating status and not so much has been written about it. The book is called Celebrating Grandmothers and covers the joys and challenges of being a grandmother. It was independently published in 2014.
Apple iBooks, Kobo etc https://www.books2read.com/u/b5MKjp
Fiona: Is there a message in your books that you want readers to grasp?
No one ever asked me this before, but yes, there is an underlying message that, whatever their circumstances, people are very much the same and experience the same joys, pain, irritations, anxieties etc as others.
I wrote Wise Before their Time to help readers to understand that people with AIDS were just ordinary men and women coping with very difficult circumstances and not dreadful monsters (as often portrayed at the time), as well as to help mothers whose sons were dying to understand that they were not alone.
I wrote Life in a Hospice for people to see what wonderful care can be provided by ordinary people put in the situation of looking after the dying.
I wrote Celebrating Grandmothers for people to see that grandmothers go through many of the same emotional highs and lows of love and disappointment as everyone else.
I have no idea whether any of my books achieved these aims, but I like to think so.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
At my age, you do not think in terms of careers – you think in terms of how you want to spend the rest of your life. I like writing and would like to write more before I am done. Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
I would encourage people to follow their heart. If you want to write romance or crime, you will do better financially as far as I can see, but if your heart lies in something not so popular, like literary fiction, go for it. You will feel much better in yourself, which is worth much more than the money.
My books might as well be literary fiction as they are not popular reads. On the other hand, I am exceedingly proud of – and fond of – each and every one of them, which means a lot to me. They are all on serious subjects and will help readers reflect on the nature of their lives.
To see the original version, go to https://wp.me/p3uv2y-7×4
Some years ago, I was taken to a hospice by a friend, who happened to be doing an errand. I immediately felt that this was the kind of tranquil place where I wanted to spend time. Soon after, I began to volunteer at a local hospice every Saturday afternoon. I did so for four years.
This experience had a strong impact on me, lasting even to the present day. Death – as with birth – is a very special time and I felt privileged to help people, even in small ways, in their last days.
As I was a writer, I thought the views and experiences of hospice staff would make a fascinating book. I had developed a technique, based on the kind of research I did for a living, of creating books formed around the direct views of people acquired by long and intimate interviews. Like a television documentary, it allows people to talk directly to the reader.
I undertook 31 interviews in two hospices with a whole range of staff – nurses, doctors, chaplains, managers and even a very reflective cook. They talked about the many ways in which they tried to make patients’ last days peaceful and meaningful, about the impact of such work on their own lives and, most importantly, about what they gained personally from such work. Like myself, they often used the word ‘privileged’ for being with people at the end of their lives.
The resulting book, Life in a Hospice, was, in my humble view, the best I had ever written – and I anticipated that many people would be keen to read it. It was very well reviewed, there was an article in the Times newspaper about it and it was even Highly Commended by the British Medical Association, despite not being a ‘medical’ book at all. All this was hugely pleasing.
But, alas, the breadth of the readership was very disappointing. The book was bought by many hospices and others working in end of life care, but it never took off with the general public. I quickly realized there were two reasons. First, most people do not have my fascination with end-of-life care and, indeed, avoid thinking about anything to do with death. And, second, the book was much too expensive, the price having been set by its medical publisher
I couldn’t do anything to overcome the first problem, but I took back the rights to the book and re-launched it as a very inexpensive e-book ($3.75), so that anyone who wants to read it will not be deterred by the price. It is again receiving some good reviews on Amazon. I must admit I have never heard anyone say they were not deeply moved by it. A paperback version is in the works and will be published soon.
My one caveat for this website is that the hospices in my book did not cater for people with Alzheimer’s. I can only say that the attention to the very individual needs of patients would go far when it comes to people with dementia of any kind.
This was originally published on the Alzheimers Authors website: https://alzauthors.com/2017/06/14/welcome-ann-richardson-author-of-life-in-a-hospice/
Life in a Hospice takes you behind the scenes in end-of-life care, where you will see the enormous efforts of nurses, doctors, chaplains and others – even a thoughtful cook – to provide the calm that we all hope for. Perhaps you are looking for end-of-life care for someone you love. Perhaps you are wondering if this is the job for you. Or you just feel like being inspired by humanity at its best. This book will be for you.
Life in a Hospice: reflections on caring for the dying by Ann Richardson
After the death of a good friend, I worked for four years as a hospice volunteer. I was extremely impressed with the dedication of the staff, but also rather fascinated by what motivated them to go to work day after day to see people die. I had already written one book based on interviews and felt this would be another suitable subject.
2. How long did it take you to write your book?
My writing is different from that of most authors as it is based on interviews. Each interview takes somewhat under two hours and it is best not to do more than one a day. There were 31 interviews done over the course of two or three months. These are then transcribed verbatim (word-for-word), which takes about half a day each. Once I have the transcript, I read it over with enormous care, marking up the different themes and issues arising. I can do only 2-3 a day. So there is a lot of preparation time. These preparatory processes usually overlap, which helps.
Once I have the transcript material in order, however, it takes me only a few months to complete a book draft and a little longer for editing. All in all, the process takes somewhere between six months and a year.
3. What is one thing you would love someone to take away after reading your book?
A sense of awe at the caring qualities of the people I interviewed. You see humanity at its very best (not the people dying, who we don’t learn much about, but the people caring for them)
4. Describe your book in three words.
Hospice, dedication, care
5. Who will enjoy your book the most?
People who like to reflect on deeper issues in life. It is not at all morbid – indeed, it is funny in places – but it is not traditional entertainment. I suspect there is a big overlap with people who seek out literary fiction.
6. What do you think is most important to being a powerful writer?
Skill with words is always important (and hard to pin down what it means), but so is a sense of the complexity of human beings – their motivations, their funny little foibles and their joys. I would place honesty above all, as readers recognize an honest book when they see it
7. When you write, who do you envision you’re writing to?
This varies book by book. In this case, I imagined readers would be people like me who would find it fascinating to understand the joys and challenges of end-of-life care. Regrettably, there are not so many people in this category as I hoped! Several subgroups are also likely to be interested in this book –
- people who already provide end-of-life care, such as nurses and others, and want to read about how others cope with it;
- people who are thinking about going into end-of-life care, such as student nurses and others, and want to understand what it entails;
- people who are looking into end-of-life care for a family member or friend and want to know what hospices are like.
I also recommend it to anyone who just wants to see humanity acting at its very best.
8. Does writing energise or exhaust you, or a bit of both?
Writing completely energises me and it is difficult for me to stop. Sometimes I will wake up in the night and go to work on a book. Of course, in the end, it is tiring, but I am always happy when I am working on a book.
9. What did you enjoy most – and least – about the process of creating your book?
I enjoy almost everything in the process of creating my books, but there can come a time in editing a book when I feel I have had enough.
10. Did you often suffer from writer’s block whilst writing? Any tips to overcome it?
I have never suffered from writer’s block, aside from the odd morning after a bad night’s sleep when the sentences don’t flow as well as usual.
Ann Richardson’s book is available on Amazon at: Life in a Hospice
This was originally published on mumsthewordblog (https://www.mumsthewordblog.com/2017/04/12/interview-with-ann-richardson-author-of-life-in-a-hospice/)
This was published on Jane Davis’ Virtual Book Club on 12 April 2017.
‘Adds to the canon of literature of personal narratives in the experience of illness, death and bereavement…The simple reflections on complex areas of care resonate long after you have finished reading the book.’
Cancer Nursing Forum Newsletter
Royal College of Nursing
‘Some of the stories are sad, some are amusing, but all are inspiring. This book offers a snapshot of hospice care at its finest. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in caring for people who are facing death, and anyone considering the option of a residential hospice program for themselves or a loved one.’
Professor Steven Claxton-Oldfield
Journal of Palliative Care
A few weeks back, I re-launched a book I wrote on end-of-life care ten years ago, Life in a Hospice. Some might well ask why one would write a book on this subject in the first place, much less re-launch it ten years later. In fact, the subject has fascinated me for years. Let me explain.
In 1990, when I was in my late 40s, I met a young man who had been living with AIDS for some years and, as there was no real treatment at that time, it was clear he did not have long to live. We had almost nothing in common – he was 20 years younger than me, I was a happily married woman and he a gay man, he was a natural leader of people and I was definitely not, he was a trained nurse and I was a quiet social researcher and writer. But for reasons that are always inexplicable, we quickly became close friends.
For the first time in my life, I began to think about how one should treat people who were close to dying. What should one say? What should one do? The more I thought about it, the more I decided that the only sensible course was to treat them as normally as possible. Give them friendship and anything that would assist a good life, but basically carry on as you would with anyone else.
It so happened that he was in the process of organising an international conference of people with AIDS and HIV. He had invited conference attendees to submit their stories and hoped to publish them, although he did not know how. Being a writer, I said I could help and, with his consent, applied for a small research grant to supplement the contributions with interviews. The result was a book, Wise Before their Time, in which people with AIDS and HIV talk about the complexities (and joys) of their lives. I managed to secure a Foreword by Ian McKellen. My friend lived to comment on the draft manuscript but died before it was published, aged just 32. The book sold quite well in both the US and UK, but is now out of print. It remains a good read about young people faced with death, but is no longer indicative of the lives of people with this disease.
Not long after publication of that book, I was invited to a hospice and was immediately taken with the calm and peace afforded to dying people there. I felt a longing to be part of that world and soon became a volunteer one day a week in a hospice near to my home. I loved the work of helping people in their last days or weeks. But it also occurred to me that it was a strange job for those who worked full time – going to work every day to watch people die. I had the idea of writing a book on the subject, also based on interviews, but it took some time to put the idea into practice. I suspected it would take a lot of effort to get the agreement of hospices to interview staff, to find the necessary funding and so forth. I put my attention to other projects.
Eventually, the lure of the book was too strong and, without any funding, I decided to proceed. The resulting interviews proved even more fascinating than I had expected. To me, the subject was never morbid or depressing, but incredibly uplifting to see the many ways in which nurses, health care assistants, doctors and so forth tried to make the last days of hospice patients as meaningful as possible.
Nurses were constantly trying to accede to the requests of the patients, whether helping an old lady to write the letters she said she wanted to write before she died or taking a patient outside to die under a tree when his time had come. A palliative care consultant explained how it was an intriguing puzzle to work out the appropriate medication to keep people pain free but nonetheless awake. And a very reflective cook gave a lot of thought to how to encourage patients to eat because, as he said, if they ate they would have the energy to say goodbye to their family and leave a good memory for them.
The resulting book had a Foreword by Tony Benn (who was a big supporter of hospices), a lot of good reviews and was Highly Commended by the British Medical Association. As the only higher award given by the BMA is Medical Book of the year, I was particularly pleased. The reviewer for the BMA wrote “An easy-to-read book, which will surprise many readers with its lightness of touch, humanity and refreshing tone. I would recommend it to anyone who has worries about their own or a relative’s care at the end of life.”
But after some reasonable sales in the first years, the book languished quietly out of site. Not only had the publishers set a very high price for the book from the outset (over £20), but when e-books began, the price was not very different. As they also did nothing to publicise the book’s existence, its lack of sales is no surprise. This made me incredibly sad, as it was my favourite book of all those I have written. I was even reluctant to recommend it to friends because of the high price.
So, ten years on, having gained experience of self-publishing through another book entirely (about being a grandmother), I decided to take the rights back from the original publishers and re-launch a second edition. This process proved surprisingly easy. There was no argument over rights. I undertook a small amount of research to update information about the number of hospices and what they do, commissioned a new cover and added the usual pages that tend to accompany a second edition, such as reviews of the first edition.
Importantly, I set a low price of £2.99 for the e-book. I have not yet decided whether to also produce a paperback, but will respond to demand if it is there.
If you cannot face reading a book that has a theme around dying, I cannot recommend this book. If, however, you are interested in seeing humanity at its best, you could find fewer better examples. It was my privilege to midwife the book into existence.
Life in a Hospice: reflections on caring for the dying is available as an e-book on Amazon. You can read more about it, see reviews and some sample chapters on the author’s website: www.lifeinahospice.com.
This post was initially published on Jane Davis Author’s blog (http://jane-davis.co.uk/2017/04/12/behind-book-story-behind-life-hospice-reflections-caring-dying/)
This week I am featuring one of the distinguished Authors of the Facebook Page – Books Go Social Authors Group. Her name is Ann Richardson and she lives in London, England. She is the Leader of the Facebook Group – Real Lives which is a part of BGS.
I asked Ann a few questions and she provided some very interesting answers.
She has lived an exemplary life and is proud to be a grandmother to her two grandsons.
Tell us a little about yourself?
I have lived in London, England, most of my life, but I am American by birth. I met my English husband when I was only 19, married him two years later and 54 years later, we are happier than ever. (This story, I presume, would not make a good novel!) We have two children, both of whom live in London and two young grandsons. Somewhat unusually for my generation – but not subsequent ones – I have worked throughout my life, although only part-time when the children were young. I was a social researcher, initially employed by an independent research organisation but then working freelance for most of my life. About 25 years ago, I wrote my first book for the general reading public and have written two others since. I am now at the age where you are supposed to be ‘retired’. I am a very involved grandmother, but am also still active in writing – and promoting – my books.
When and why did you begin writing?
I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Even as a small child, I wrote stories. At my school, writing skills were taken seriously and I clearly honed my abilities there. In my first year at university, I shared first prize in a university-wide writing competition. By that time, I knew that writing was important to me.
But I did not consider writing as a career. Few people did, of course. My interests lay primarily in social problems. I completed a PhD in political ideas and, as noted above, became a social researcher. I gained great satisfaction in writing numerous reports for the agencies commissioning my work, as well as a number of books and articles for a wider audience. I loved learning new things and never stayed on one subject. In the course of a long career, I wrote about the experiences of people with a wide range of medical conditions (cancer, COPD, heart disease, mental health problems and others), patient support groups, public participation and other disparate subjects.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
You can see that I became a writer without quite intending to. A great deal of my time was spent writing about the results of research – mostly my own but sometimes those of others. As an independent consultant, I was hired to write reports from three Committees of Inquiry, for example on the needs of people with learning disabilities, as well as conference reports. I was also hired to edit other people’s writing. In the course of all this work, I was sowing the seeds for the kind of writing I most love now – writing what I call narrative non-fiction about important aspects of people’s lives.
Being a writer means being a communicator. You need to communicate ideas from one set of people (or one person) to other people in ways that they will understand. This means knowing what the readers think beforehand and then judging how best they will absorb new information or thoughts. I found this a fascinating exercise, which had to be constantly addressed in new ways.
At some point, someone I didn’t know asked me what I did and I said, without much hesitation, that I was a writer. And I realised I was.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I have written many books intended for different audiences, including people working in the caring professions, university students and other researchers. These were all written in an easy journalistic style, because of my concern to communicate well. I am not discussing these here, as I think they are of less interest to your readers.
Over time, I developed a very distinct writing style in my books, which I call ‘narrative non-fiction’. This is writing based almost entirely on the exact words of other people, with only minor interjections from myself to maintain the flow. The best way to explain this is that it is like a television documentary with interviews but in writing. I feel that it is an excellent way of communicating the thoughts and experiences of people, without losing something in translation. I also find it both challenging and very fulfilling.
I came on this writing technique from two directions. First, after many years of writing up the results of interviews, I concluded that ordinary people are much better at expressing themselves clearly and with originality than the researchers studying them. While my colleagues tended to summarise the results of interviews, with the occasional quote, as an illustration, I turned this on its head – using people’s original words as much as possible. As interviews were always transcribed verbatim, I had a full transcription of what anyone had to say.
Second, I realised that if you want a reader to really understand another person’s point of view, there is no better way than to enable the latter to speak directly and from the heart – person to person. I was used to working with deep interviews, where people talk openly but confidentially about some aspect of their lives. If I could put passages from these together in a way that flowed easily for the reader, I felt they would come to ‘hear’ the people talking and understand their perspectives. Views would be fresh and very powerful.
I have now written three books in this way and am about to embark on my fourth. The first
was published in 1992 about people with HIV and AIDS, when few people survived a diagnosis and those with the condition were often treated as pariahs.
The stories in the book were extremely moving, being about young people with a fatal disease coming to terms with their situation. Called Wise Before their Time, it had a Foreword by Sir Ian McKellen and despite only limited reviews, sold roughly 7000 copies worldwide. McKellen said that the book was ‘as powerful as any classic of fiction’, which pleased me enormously.
Having worked as a hospice volunteer, I became fascinated with what it was like to work every day with dying people. In 2007, I published Life in a Hospice about the lives and thoughts of people who work in end-of-life care – nurses, doctors, managers, chaplains and even a very reflective cook. It had a Foreword by the late Tony Benn, MP, was very well reviewed and even Highly Commended by the British Medical Association.
This book was seen to be very uplifting, showing humanity at its very best with complex stories of how some people helped others to come to terms with themselves at their most vulnerable time. But because the publishers priced this too high (around £20) and did not publicize it, relatively few copies were sold after its first year or so. I am now re-issuing this book with a small amount of updating and the same title. It will initially be an e-book only, but I will produce a print version if there is sufficient demand.
And, finally, in 2014, having become a grandmother and finding that there are many fascinating aspects in that role, I decided to write a third book in this genre, called Celebrating Grandmothers
My main concern here, before undertaking the interviews, was that it would prove to be a sentimental book, but I had not counted on the many ways in which difficult family relationships intrude on our lives. It is about both the joys and the challenges of being a grandmother. This was the first of my books to be self-published. It has received many good reviews from readers.
I might add that after I had developed my narrative non-fiction style, I discovered that there was an American journalist – Studs Turkel – who won the Pulitzer Prize for a book written in the same way. His books spanned larger subjects and were viewed as part of oral history. He died nine years ago.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book in this genre had a very clear moment of inspiration, which I remember well. I had a close friend with AIDS, who was the principal organizer of an international conference of people with HIV and AIDS in London. We were having lunch one day and he told me that he had asked each invitee to the conference to write their personal story as part of their application – and he wanted to turn the contributions into a book. He thought he could just hand these over to a publisher and it would be done. I told him no, any publisher would send them right back, but I could help him to write the book. I then applied for a small amount of money from the Department of Health (who funded research projects) to pay for some interviews at the conference, and to my amazement received this within two weeks, and the project was off and running.
I proposed that my friend should be a joint author of the book. He lived long enough to comment on the draft manuscript but died before its publication. He was only 32 years old. All royalties went to AIDs charities.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The most challenging aspect of my writing is actually editing. When you are working with the words of other people, you want to be true to them, but you also want to ensure that their thoughts are clear to other people. This may sound simple, but it isn’t. When people want to stop to think, they often interject meaningless phrases which give them time, such as ‘I mean’ or ‘you know’, but these are not part of their message. In addition, people often start a sentence, then pause, and start it in another way. Listen to yourself sometime, and you will see that we all do this more frequently than we think.
I also have to think about whether to keep ungrammatical sentences, which would embarrass the speaker (as if their clothing was not adjusted appropriately), or poor English when foreigners are talking.
I never add words – ever – but I feel it is appropriate to remove some, such as these interjections or half-formed sentences. To give an example, I once interviewed a really thoughtful man with HIV who frequently added ‘and stuff like that’ to his explanations. Once I removed these interjections, his thoughts emerged so clearly, it was if clouds had been lifted. I tend to correct grammar, on the grounds that the speaker would want me to, and only partially correct the English of non-English speakers.
You are always trying to balance the dignity of the speaker with the understanding of the reader. It is a challenge, but a rather enjoyable one, at least to me.
What are your current projects?
Following my book about being a grandmother, I am keen to write another book about the experiences of older women. We are a group who are often overlooked in our youth-oriented society – indeed, some argue that we are ‘invisible’, not really noticed by anyone. But being an older woman is fascinating in so many ways that I would like to provide an opportunity for some women to talk about it and others to read their reflections.
I have also discovered the joys of blogging; very few people read my own blog, but I have been invited to be a guest blogger on several sites. The most notable is SixtyandMe (www.sixtyandme.com), an online magazine, that asked me to write a series of 12 posts. I not only enjoy the process but like the fact that I am able to reach – and interact with – large readership.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I am a very fussy reader. Not only do I need to be drawn into a narrative fairly quickly, but I tend to edit as I read – not on purpose, but I can’t help it – which makes reading annoying.
I often read non-fiction of various sorts, but I do like a good novel. My real discovery in the way of novelists is an English writer called Jim Crace. He has the ability to create an incredibly powerful atmosphere, drawing you into a situation often taking place somewhere out of the ordinary. One of my favourites is about people living in the Stone Age (The Gift of Stones), but he has also written about Christ’s 40 days in the desert (Quarantine), a dystopic book about the US (the Pesthouse) and one about village life sometime in the past (Harvest). I highly recommend any of these for their excellent writing and ability to take you far away from your own day-to-day life.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I find it hard to offer advice to others, because everyone comes from a different background, has different skills and different interests. Nonetheless, I would say if you feel a burning desire to write, then do so. Do not expect to make your fame or fortune – very few writers do – but do it because you love the process and will feel good about yourself when you have done so.
If you were not a writer what else would you like to do?
I once wanted to be a ballet dancer and had a good grounding, having started lessons at the age of four. I have never regretted the loss of that career!
This interview was posted on the website of Brenda Mohammed, a fellow writer.
I am semi-retired, having worked as a researcher concerned with health issues during my working life. I wrote many books for health and social care professionals, but my real passion is writing narrative non-fiction, books using direct quotations from interviews to bring people’s views and experiences ‘alive’ on the page. My most recent book is about what it is like being a grandmother (Celebrating Grandmothers), but I have also written books on people with HIV/AIDS (Wise before their Time: Foreword by Sir Ian McKellen) and on people working with the dying (Life in a Hospice: Foreword by Tony Benn, MP). The latter was Highly Commended by the British Medical Association.
I am American born, but have lived in London for nearly fifty years with my English husband. We have two grown up children and two grandsons.
What inspires you to write?
I have always loved to write, from when I was a young girl, and am very interested in what makes people ‘tick’. At one point, I thought I would be a novelist, but I felt I lacked the necessary imagination. In my work, I used a lot of quotations from interviews and I learned that a good interview, undertaken confidentially, elicits the same kind of ‘inner view’ than one gets from a novel. I therefore love writing narrative fiction, as the resulting book reads like a novel, although based on actual people. I love the creative process of bringing the interviews together into a coherent whole.
Tell us about your writing process.
I start with an outline of my book (just a page, in Word) and some of the subheadings of chapters. I then do my interviews, based on these ideas, but always allow for new ideas to emerge. The interviews are transcribed verbatim (word for word) and I go through them to pick up all key points made and edit, for instance, incomplete sentences. After that, it is a matter of finding a logical sequence and choosing which quotations to use.
What advice would you give other writers?
Follow your instincts when writing. Check with others before publishing, to ensure that the book flows smoothly and, of course, is properly copy-edited.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
All my books were published traditionally with well-known publishers, but for my last book (Celebrating Grandmothers), it was a very simple decision: I couldn’t find an interested publisher, much to the surprise of my agent.
I would advise writers to look to traditional publishing to see how they respond, but not to be upset if they get refusals. There are many benefits in self-publishing, as you have control over the contents, the cover and the later marketing. You also get higher royalties. The main downside is the prejudice that still exists in getting your book reviewed and into bookstores, although it is possible.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I think traditional publishing is digging itself into a hole, as self-publishers invent all kinds of ways to attract readers, such as amending the price or selling one book free in a series. Traditional publishers may eventually learn such new tricks, but otherwise they will retreat into publishing fewer and fewer books that feel like a ‘safe’ bet.
What do you use?: Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?: Narrative non-fiction
What formats are your books in?: Both eBook and Print
Jeannette Gomez, of iSeniorSolutions, based in Texas, interviewed me (by email) about my book.
We had the pleasure to speak with author Ann Richardson. She is the author of “Celebrating Grandmothers”, a book about the views and experiences of grandmothers, told by grandmothers. When you think of your grandma you picture her as a sweet little, quite old lady, however that is not always the case. A grandmother is so much more. She is full of joy, wisdom, love and sometimes sadness. All grandmothers have a story to tell.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer.
First, my background. I was born and brought up in the USA, but married an Englishman, so I have lived in London, England most of my adult life. I have a BA and MA from American universities and a PhD from the London School of Economics. My husband and I have now been married 52 years, a long time in modern life. We have two children, both married, and both have one child, hence I have two grandsons aged nine and five.
I think I have always been a writer, inasmuch as I enjoyed it and was well praised for my writing at school. At one stage, I thought I would like to write novels, as I was fascinated by the texture of other people’s lives, but felt I lacked the necessary imagination. Eventually, I became a researcher into social and health issues and put my writing skills to good use writing reports, articles and the occasional book. After some years, I decided to go freelance and I was hired by others to do research as well as editing. My research was not quantitative (counting things) but what is known as ‘qualitative’, i.e. interviews and focus groups about how people feel about different issues. I wrote on widely varying subjects, having no expertise on a single topic but the ability to turn my skills to whatever anyone asked me to work on. Most of what I wrote was intended for social care and health professionals.
Can you tell us about your books?
People who do qualitative research always use quotes to ‘illustrate’ their points, but then try to summarize the issues. I came to feel that the quotes were the most interesting bits and it was important to let people speak for themselves. Ordinary people from all walks of life can be incredibly articulate and it seemed a shame to lose the wonderful color that their words convey. If you assure them anonymity, they are usually very honest as well, so you can learn a lot from seeing the world from their perspective. The skill comes in knowing how to interview and, when you have word for word transcripts, knowing how much to edit (I never add words, but I do cut out some repetition). I began to draw more and more heavily on quotations in my writing and eventually decided it would be interesting to write a book that was based wholly on quotations, aside from brief introductions.
I was also becoming increasingly interested in writing for the general public, rather than professionals in health and social care. I therefore used my spare time to write my own books (in contrast to those which had been commissioned).
The first book that I wrote of this kind was about people with HIV and AIDS, entitled Wise Before their Time: people with HIV and AIDS talk about their lives. Based on interviews with men and women from all over the world (all at an AIDS conference in London in 1991), it was published in 1992, and was quite successful in sales terms. It gives a real feel for what it is like to be young and knowing you have a life-threatening disease. It is still available onAmazon for about the price of the postage.
The second book of this kind was about people providing hospice care, Life in a Hospice: reflections on caring for the dying, published in 2007. It gives a real feel for what it is like to work every day with dying people. You ask me about this below, so I will not say more here.
Celebrating Grandmothers is the third book I have written in this genre. I think it gives a real feel for what it is like to be a grandmother. It is not an advice book, but there is a lot any grandmother can learn from what the women who were interviewed have to say.
I absolutely love doing this work and am always happy when I am working on a book. Interviews with complete strangers are a form of discovery – you never know what you are going to hear and how they are going to express themselves, but I am rarely disappointed. There is the pleasure in hearing different stories and then the challenge of weaving them together into a coherent whole.
Can you describe what it was like for you to become a grandmother for the first time?
Becoming a grandmother is the same whether it is the first time or not, rather like having a baby. Each time, there is a sense of utter joy.
But it is not the ‘becoming’ a grandmother that is important – it is the day-to-day feeling of being a grandmother that interests me. It brings a whole lot of love – both yours for them and theirs for you. It is a complex role, sometimes a challenging one, but brings all the excitement of having children without all the mundane chores. There is so much to it – the cuddling of babies, the playing with smaller children and helping them as they grow to learn about the world. It can change the nature of your relationship with your son and daughter and with their partner/spouse. You feel you have moved up in the world and play an important role in keeping the family together, offering help and support.
Grandchildren keep you in touch with the world and are the constant source of delight. My five year old grandson said to me last week ‘Granny, can you do me a favor? Can you and Granddad do your very best to stay healthy, because I want my children to know their great-grandparents!’ What can be nicer than that?
For me, this was all a big surprise as I did not have close relationships with my own grandmothers (one lived too far away and one was not all that interested).
Why do you feel it is important to celebrate grandmothers?
I think grandmothers are too little celebrated and too little is written about them. Other people think that grandmothers are just dull older women, although we know better. This lack of attention will probably change as women of the ‘baby boomer’ generation find themselves grandmothers. We are already getting a lot of books and movies centering on older people and some advice books for grandmothers.
My book was originally going to be called ‘Being a Grandmother’ as this is what it is about, but everyone said that sounded boring. (It isn’t the least bit boring being a grandmother, but the title was.) I wanted an upbeat and catchy title.
My book explores what it feels like to be a grandmother in all different aspects. It shows the love and concern, of course, but also all the complicated issues like how it feels to try to offer advice to a son or daughter about their child’s upbringing – or how not to do so. It lets grandmothers talk about their views of doing a lot of childcare, their hopes for their grandchildren and how being a grandmother affects their view of themselves. There is a lot to talk about and, well, celebrate.
What advice would you give to a new grandmother to be?
I am not an advice giver to anyone, but I can only say ‘enjoy the experience and be yourself’. Get to know your grandchildren as much as you can and let them get to know you. There are as many kinds of grandmothers as there are women and many different ways of being a grandmother. My book shows some of these and lets women reflect on their own experiences.
What inspired you to write about grandmothers?
As I have shown in my other answers, being a grandmother is incredibly fulfilling. I love being a grandmother and I love writing books – the two seemed made for each other. But I don’t like writing about myself (I am quite a private person), so I thought it was a perfect opportunity to let other grandmothers talk about themselves and their feelings. I am delighted with what they had to say.
Your book, “Life in a Hospice: Reflections on caring for the dying” was this an emotional book to write? Hospices tend to sound gloomy and a bit scary for those who really do not know what goes on inside a Hospice. Would you say that your book has changed that misconception?
I had already written a book about people with AIDS and HIV back in 1992, when people were dying, and had a close friend with AIDS who died. I became interested in making dying a good experience, which is what hospices do, and went to work as a volunteer in a local hospice. In the UK, hospices are places where people go when they are nearing death, although as in the US they also have outreach workers going into people’s homes.
I found the hospice to be a very calm, peaceful place – not exactly ‘happy’ but definitely uplifting – and I felt it was a privilege to be able to be there. They are full of wonderful people who spend their time working out how to make people comfortable and at ease with themselves when they die. I was fascinated in how people could spend their working days with dying people and decided to write a book about this. It is not a sad book, but in many ways a comforting one. I would love to think that my book would help to dispel any misconceptions about hospice care, but regrettably it was never well publicized, was very expensive (not my decision) and therefore was not widely sold.
This was originally published on the website of iSeniorSolutions: https://www.iseniorsolutions.com/celebrating-grandmothers/