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/