The End book launch at the Sunderland Literature and Creative Writing Festival

Last Thursday I was privileged to be able to take part in the Sunderland launch of The End collection, published by Unthank Books and inspired by artwork rom Nicolas Ruston. Launches are funny things, I think. And I’ve somewhat noticed that not many people are that enthused by them unless there is the opportunity to have their own small moment of glory, which makes sense and is all fair and fine.

I read from Burning the Ants, Andrea Ashworth from Harbour Lights and Ailsa Cox from Coup d’etat. There was a time when reading terrified me, but now it is mostly a pleasure and the best part can be that discussion and thought about the literature afterwards. They’re places where you get to explore your process’s and sometimes this will resonate with other people, sometimes it will be completely different.

We were asked essentially how much truth is in the writing and I’ve been exploring thoughts about the stories before and after the event. It was interesting to read Ailsa’s interview on the publishers website about how that moment where you take the leap from fact to fiction, the story then becomes something else. While it might have started closely to you, it becomes about the family in the fiction you create,the loss if their dog, whilst retaining the notions and explorations of love and mortality that Ailsa indicated she had wanted to explore. Equally, Andrea talks about the moment she encountered a very poetic, Gallic man in a fish and chip shop and the questions as to how and why he was there triggered a emotional story of life and love, a relationship that contained so much yet was cut brutally short.

I cant now imagine not having written Burning the Ants. I wonder if other writers feel that the stories they have written contribute to how they recognise themselves, that without this particular piece, I would not now feel quite so whole. Something would be missing. Because I would not have thought about my reasons for writing the story and it would still be swirling within me, untethered and unprocessed. I am stronger with it.

Burning the Ants is Joanie and Emma’s story, twin sisters, 17, one of their lives is stopped by a horrible motorbike accident that leaves Emma, the bolder twin, with locked in syndrome. Joanie is left to try and finally live her own life, but is also faced with that awful question, who are you without your other? This story started from an obvious point, my own brothers cancer and the question he asked, because he did not want to die in the pain he did, and our guilt for not being able to carry out that wish. The thing is, the way my brother wanted his life to end changed throughout his illness and this is why the debate of assisted suicide I think will continue to rage, and it was interesting to watch Me before You, as it explored similar issues in an emotional but perhaps fairly sanitised way. I don’t know the answer, I never expected to be faced with the question but it is a question we need to continue to have as a society.

In the story, the suggestion is that Joanie does end Emmas life and this piece is their story, but it also allowed me to consider mine. Very interesting that the launch provoked such questions and I feel resolved, from the process of writing this fiction, to get involved in that debate more.

So thanks to everyone who made this collection happen.

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5 thoughts on “The End book launch at the Sunderland Literature and Creative Writing Festival

  1. For all its foibles, the reboot of Cold Feet had a fair go at addressing this question too – did you see it?

    Glad to hear you will get more involved in the debate. It’s a gnarly issue, but one that will come more and more to the forefront. I can’t imagine being faced with the question and that’s part of the difficulty, most people can’t. But you’ve been there – you’re an informed voice. More power to you, Sarah.

    • I didn’t, you know. I think I watched some of it first time around, maybe should. Not sure how informed this makes the bystanders really, it’s the person who is ill whose voice that needs to be loudest and I think this is one of the worries? That this voice will get overlooked / misused / misinterpreted. We looked at going abroad, and to think that it was cost that prevented it is quite quite painful. But also, what a trip to make. Was talking to my mum about the gaps between MacMillan care and hospital care, the strength of drugs differed significantly and this caused incredible distress. Also something that I wish I knew if there was something to do about, except thinking and writing. But will keep on with both. Appreciate the message 😊

      • Can’t help but feel there should be a legal process for recognising and validating personal choice. Would I feel differently if I, or a member of my family, was in that situation? I don’t know, if I’m honest, because I just can’t imagine it. As for abroad, as you say what a trip to make.

        What I can say, Sarah, is keep on keeping on. You seem so engaged with life, to have grabbed it and its opportunities by the horns. Maybe that is the best (or only?) response?

    • Peaks and troughs as with anything, but the overall momentum is yes, we are incredibly lucky. There are still processes (and hefty costs) associated with making that decision (when going abroad). I think we’d run out of time in some ways when I was looking into it properly and I didn’t quite have enough money, so that’s another thing to discuss (sad to think, if you agree / if it’s what that person wants) that you could afford to die more kindly if you’re well off. And this should not be the case, I believe that. People are right to be cautious, as I said, my brother changed his mind (or it was instinct/drive) he wanted hours – seconds. They became so crucial, so owed to him. He wanted surgery in the last days, just for those extra days. A keen reminder that I’m mindful not to forget. Anyway, I’m waffling now, but if fiction can continue to aid the discussion about this, well that has to be a good thing. Innit. 😉

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