Having had a difficult few months whilst my husband got clear of cancer at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, it is a subject close to my heart. When I discovered that Sam Hayward had written a book, Black to White, in which Susie Chester has just lost her husband to cancer, I felt I had to ask Sam about it.
Black to White
Sam Hayward’s debut novel Black to White is a fictional portrayal of loss, hope, love and renewal. It can be ordered from all good bookshops and from Sam’s website.
Through darkness comes light, through fear comes love and through pain comes triumph.
Grieving widow Susie Chester is trying to turn her life around with a little help from Peter, her gardener, who just might be her Guardian Angel – or a product of her imagination.
When fifty-five year old Susie Chester’s husband dies, her world falls apart, and although she lives in beautiful surroundings, she doesn’t know how she’ll cope alone. Then, after a chance meeting with Peter, her life slowly starts to change. He works for her as her gardener and, although she finds him mysterious, she feels inexplicably drawn to him. Has she met him somewhere before? Why does he feel so familiar?
Soon afterwards, white feathers begin to appear around the house. At first she finds them intriguing, but then they start to bring her comfort…
An Interview with Sam Hayward
Hello Sam. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your debut novel Black to White.
Firstly, please could you tell readers a little about yourself?
I grew up in a town called Waterlooville on the outskirts of Portsmouth. I was a very imaginative child, often making up stories about invisible animals that only I could see. At primary school, my friends would frequently ask if they could see them too, so I said only if they were very nice to me. Needless to say, I instantly became very popular. My love of storytelling stayed with me and I knew that one day I would become a writer. When I left school, I went to secretarial college. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it was a career that most women followed in the ‘70s. I returned to full-time education in the early ‘90s to study for a degree in journalism. A few years before this, I had met my husband. We knew instantly that we were meant for each other so decided to live together before getting married six years later. We moved to Somerset in 2000 where we lived in an idyllic country cottage. Then, after seventeen wonderful years together, at the age of 55, I was widowed. It was the most devastating experience of my life. In 2012 I enrolled on a postgraduate course in creative writing at Bath Spa University and finally fulfilled my aim of writing a novel.
Black to White is based on your own experiences after losing your husband to cancer. How difficult or cathartic was it to write?
It was extremely cathartic. I knew that if I could express my feelings in words, it would help me. I obviously struggled at the beginning because that was the most painful part of the story, but from there on it got easier. I injected a lot of myself into the protagonist, Susie Chester, who I decided would be strong and positive. I was determined that she would find happiness again.
You’ve written in the first person. Did doing so help your own grieving process or was that just an approach that felt natural to you?
I think writing in the first person was a more powerful way to convey Susie’s emotions. It just felt right. It also enables the reader to get closer to her. Yes, it helped me enormously, but I wasn’t actually conscious of this until I finished the novel.
Having had my own husband diagnosed with cancer (and now thankfully free from it) when I was 54, Black to White is a book I haven’t been able to bring myself to read yet. What would you say to encourage me to do so?
The essence of the book is summed up in the sentence on the cover: ‘Through darkness comes light, through fear comes love and through pain comes triumph.’ It’s a story about overcoming adversity. I think you would find it uplifting. All of my friends who’ve read it said they enjoyed it. Some of them have experienced loss but the majority haven’t.
There’s a level of spirituality in Black to White. How much has your own attitude to spirituality changed since writing the book?
After my husband died, I gave serious thought to the possibility of an afterlife. I wanted to know where my husband was. Sometimes I could sense him around me. It was as if he still existed but I couldn’t see him. I then started finding the feathers which I felt were a gift, either from him or my guardian angel. I now believe that there is an ultimate force for good which we are all a part of. I think about this a lot and feel certain that there is a sublimely beautiful and peaceful place that we go to when we die. This was my view before writing my book and I can only say that since writing it, I am more convinced.
How did you feel when you sent Black to White off for editing given that it has such personal resonances?
I didn’t give it much thought at all. It’s a work of fiction so how it’s interpreted is up to the reader.
What advice would you give to those suffering grief and considering writing about it?
Do it! It really is the best form of healing. I found writing and then reading about my feelings far more beneficial than just talking about them.
It’s no secret that white feathers are integral to the story and to your own life. Are you still finding them and how do they make you feel.
I’ve moved twice since I started finding the feathers so have only found a few in recent years. One appeared on the kitchen floor of my previous house just after I’d moved in and then on a chest of drawers in my bedroom. I moved to my current house last August and found one about two weeks ago. It appeared on the sofa right next to where I was sitting. They still surprise me and bring me joy. I take them as a sign that I’m doing the right thing.
I’m sure you are Sam. Thank you so much for being on Linda’s Book Bag and sharing what is a very personal experience with me.