The Next Big Thing
I have been been tagged by poet and blogger Abegail Morley to answer set questions relating to my memoir of cancer, Love for Now. I have tagged two poets to continue the series, whose details are at the foot of this post.
Where did the idea of the book come from?
Love for Now did not begin with an idea but an illness. As I have written elsewhere, there wasn’t a plan. I was formally diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on Valentine’s day, 2006. A week before that date, I began writing a diary which detailed the events –being hospitalised, scans, biopsies, diagnosis– which were evidence of my rapidly deteriorating health.
I would sit at the end of each day, propped up on pillows on my bed, and try and recount what had been said and done to me as faithfully as possible. If you are interested in knowing these things, I wrote longhand in A4 French exercise books, on tiny grid squares, with an old LAMY fountain pen given to me years before by one of my brothers. I filled three and a bit of these by the time I stopped writing.
The final, published version of Love for Now is much shorter than the diary in its entirety, beginning one week before my diagnosis and ending with an entry in late October of that year.
What genre does your book fall under?
Love for Now is a memoir, written in the form of a diary.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a film version?
It is odd to think of who might play ‘me’ in a film. For a start it needs to be an actor without much regard for their appearance or their image. For most of the film they are going to look bloated, waxy and bald.
When I was diagnosed most of my male friends joked that chemotherapy wouldn’t be too much of an issue in terms of hair loss, as my genes have done a fairly good job of that already. On these grounds I think Ade Edmondson would be perfect for the role.
Tamsin Greig would be perfect in the role of my wife: she has a fantastic range, from comedy to vulnerability to towering rage, all of which the part needs.
My ward doctor, Karl, is a central character in the film. I need a young, tall actor who can do a lot of posh swearing but who can also move suddenly to great tenderness. I’m going for Tom Hiddleston.
For my consultant, Felicity Carr, I need someone who can move from determined sparkliness to no-nonsense directness in a blink. I’d love Imelda Staunton to play her.
I could see Dawn French as one of the bloods nurses.
Having recently embarked on the screenplay for the book, this is a very timely question and one I have been returning to a lot in recent weeks.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I began writing on February 7, 2006, and decided to stop in November of that year. The editing took longer than the actual writing.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
In the first instance I wanted to record what was happening to me. But as I went on writing it became more of a debt of honour, not so much to myself as to the process of writing about something so enormous and life-changing.
I found that stories about cancer, in the culture at large and which had probably always been there, began to follow me around. I felt surrounded by it. Writing about this was, to use Robert Pinsky’s phrase, somehow to ‘answer’ this new situation which I had not chosen. It became something of an act of resistance.
What one sentence would sum up your book?
The subject of Love for Now is cancer, but its imperative is to live life to the full: let’s make the most of each day, whilst realising each one is so short.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It contains everything you want to know (and do not want to know) about the physical ordeal of treatment for cancer.
It is also a sustained enquiry into the language of cancer, specifically war metaphor.
The book also questions what it means to be a writer -I had a book of poems out while I was ill- with no ‘profile’ to promote.
It is a hymn of love to my family, to Frasier re-runs, and to broccoli.
Will your book be self-published or published by an agency?
I am deeply grateful to Richard Willis of Impress Books for taking Love for Now on.
The poets I’m going to tag: