Forty-something Northern UK psychotherapist and university lecturer Rachel longs for a close family when, a year after their parents die her brother decides to cut off all contact. Out of the blue she meets Fran, a petite, attractive and outgoing community artist who disturbs and excites her. Shortly after this Aggie appears, looking like a relic from the 1960s and with a strong working-class London accent. She takes a strong interest in Rachel’s relationship with Fran. But who is she, and why is Rachel the only one that can see and hear her?
When Fran’s mother dies, the two women discover a family secret that impacts on their decision to try for a baby. But there is more shock and heartache to come, a visit to New Zealand for Fran and a tough decision for Rachel to make before she finally finds her own kind of family. This is a story that challenges traditional ideas about what constitutes family. It is also about overcoming grief, and healing the past; about love, loss, and ultimately hope. You won’t want to put it down.
Life doesn’t have neat edges
By Bonnie Meekums
In March 2011, my husband and I drove across the Pennine hills from west to east, turning right for the long journey south. At Dartford, as we climbed over the bridge I looked to my right, towards where I once lived as a child on the south-eastern river banks of London, wishing for just a moment that I could fold back the years, to see my mother young again.
After that visit, I wrote a short story, crafting recent experience into fiction, about an old woman whose body no longer did her bidding. After reading it aloud, my writing tutor Ian Clayton said, with a softness I will never forget:
‘That’s your mam, isn’t it?’
That short story was later woven into my debut novel, A Kind of Family. I remember not having to do much reworking on that section, unlike others. I sat in front of my screen in tears, reliving that day and my sense of loss for the woman she had once been. Grief was layered like one of her sponge cakes, the jam in the middle being relief that we had managed to coax her out, for a short trip in our car. She sat beside me, no longer big enough for an adult sized seat belt, terrified to be out and yet loving it more with every second. I stopped at a garage when she declared she was thirsty, and bought her a child’s ‘fruit shoot’, because that was the only thing she would be able to hold. Three months later, she was dead.
All novelists make use of their own experience, inserting themselves into memory and imagined scenarios, creating a patchwork that holds up a mirror to human experience, yet is not autobiography. Still, I would argue that one of our tasks is not to overdo the jam in the sponge. Life doesn’t always work out as we hope. If it did, we would not be able to recognise those times when we feel blessed, or very lucky, or just plain deliriously happy.
One of the things that helps me enter into the embodiment of emotion, is the work I do when I am not writing. I am a Dance Movement Psychotherapist – a psychotherapist who
works with metaphors like ‘sinking into the abyss’, ‘growing apart’, ‘wanting to hold onto what has been’, or ‘treading on eggshells’. All these figures of speech, as Lave and Wenger in their seminal work Metaphors We Live By highlighted, have reference to the body – and what interests me, is their capacity to suggest forms of movement. When those movements become a dance improvisation, the possibility arises that new ways of being can be explored, without having to sit right in the middle of a paralysing whirlwind of emotion. Metaphor also seems to be understood by others (did you intuitively understand my reference to a whirlwind there?), without the need for lengthy explanation. Add to this, the fact that all Dance Movement Psychotherapists must have their own therapy, and you end up with a writer whose capacity for self-analysis on an embodied level is honed.
Of course, I am not claiming my skill is any more developed than most other writers, but perhaps it has been an easier transition for me, from bland description (which I most certainly have done my fair share of), to close encounters with my characters.
One other interesting thing about writing is, writers often (especially in their first few novels, until they have worked it all out of their systems) make use of their own unconscious preoccupations. One of mine, I realise, concerns abandonment, and when I look at my early years, that is no surprise. My parents were good enough; I just happened to be hospitalized and in isolation at a crucial time in my childhood. A recent article by Arabel Charlaff, in issue no. 84 of Mslexia Magazine, suggests that writers can learn a lot from psychotherapy theory in order to produce more rounded and interesting characters. Unsurprisingly, she suggests writers ask themselves what early experience led a character to be the way they are. What I am proposing is, that when the writer also understands herself, she can spot when she is using the technique effectively, and when she is overlaying her own story onto another character when it simply doesn’t fit, or when the only story she tells is the broken record of her own sad song.
I could go on. There are so many instances where my own, or my family’s story has impacted on my urge to write about particular topics, but I will end with a positive one. Twenty-seven years ago, I married a man. At the time we got together, we each had two children. We did not live together before the wedding, because we agreed this had to work; the kids had been through enough. And so, we blindly stepped into the territory of step-family life, holding onto each other for fear of falling and failing. Another child came along two and a half years later. Now, we have seven grandchildren, none of whom will experience any difference in my love for them, though some are genetically related, and others not. For all of them, I am Nana. Together, my husband and I created our own ‘kind of family’. My journey inspired me to write about non-traditional families, from which came the title of the book. I chose not to write about a step family. Instead, there is a same sex couple at the heart of my novel. My hope is, readers will find something of themselves sewn into the pages, will be moved by the characters they get to know, and will feel at the end that all is exactly as it should be. Because life doesn’t have neat edges, but what we create as we stumble along can be far more beautiful.
Thank you, Bonnie Meekums and R&R Book Tours
About the Author
Born and brought up in working-class London, Bonnie crossed classes when she went to university in the 1970s, eventually gaining a PhD in arts therapies in the 1990s. In the 1980s she crossed the invisible borders from South to North in England, first living in West Yorkshire and settling eventually in an old mill town near Manchester. A mother, step-mother and grandmother, she also travels annually to New Zealand to be with part of her far-flung family.
Bonnie is well known across the globe within the small professional world of Dance Movement Therapy (DMT). She is sole author of two books on arts therapies, one of which (Dance Movement Therapy, London: Sage, 2002) is on many training course essential reading lists and has sold more than 2,000 copies. She has also published numerous research articles and has been invited to teach in New Zealand, the USA, India, China and many European countries.
Whilst still being active in DMT practice, teaching and supervision, these days Bonnie’s writing focusses on novels and short stories. She also writes a blog about becoming an older woman who rambles (a play on words), to be found at https://mamabonnie.wordpress.com/. Her short creative nonfiction The Story Hunter about how her father influenced her love of stories was featured by the online writing collective Dear Damsels on February 10th 2019. Her debut novel A Kind of Family is published by Between the Lines Publishing in January 2020.
Amazon UK : https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kind-Family-Bonnie-Meekums/dp/1950502074/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1WRDO6S0GZ29M&keywords=a+kind+of+family+meekums&qid=1576859593&s=books&sprefix=a+kind+of+fam%2Cstripbooks%2C160&sr=1-1