It’s almost a year (9th November) since my wonderful Dad died from the massive stroke he had in July and when I realised that Yes by Anne Patterson involved a protagonist who’d had a stroke I wanted to feature it on Linda’s Book Bag. I’m afraid I haven’t quite gathered the emotional strength to read Yes yet, but today Anne tells me a bit about it.
Maureen McCormack wakes up after a stroke, her memory fragmented. She can say only one word – Yes. Friends, family and lovers visit her in hospital, filling silences with secrets and learning to open up as Maureen learns to listen.
As the revelations mount, her view of life fundamentally shifts. Maureen and those around her attempt to come to terms with all that has been left unsaid and unexamined.
When her ability to speak gradually returns, she decides to keep it a secret, until she has made sense of her past and gathered the strength to shape her future.
Yes is a novel about how relationships grow, disintegrate and heal, showing what happens when people really listen to each other.
A Guest Post by Anne Patterson
I trained as a nurse and still work full time in the NHS and as you’ll see, my day job has had an influence on my noveI. I have always found hospitals fascinating; the rules, the language and the hierarchy. It’s also a great way of taking your characters out of their comfort zone and making them have conversations they wouldn’t normally have. The idea for Yes has been around for a while. In 1999 at age 38, I wanted to write about an overburdened woman aged 50 whose life is put on pause and she suddenly has time to think. It’s taken me so long to get the book written that I have overtaken my character Maureen in age! I think in your 50’s you can easily sit back and have regrets or you can see it as a time to get started. I am talking about myself as well as Maureen.
Maureen is a full-time teacher, part-time farmer and would-be artist. She’s the narrator of Yes. When a stroke deprives her of nearly, but not quite all her speech, she starts to have regrets about how she has distanced herself from the people she loves. In her family and community, folk keep themselves to themselves, never talking about how they really feel. While she’s critical of that in others, after the stroke it dawns on her that she too has been part of the problem: isolating herself, emotionally, by being too busy to talk; shying away from uncomfortable conversations; worrying about being judged. While recovering from her stroke, Maureen has time to revisit, mentally, her secrets, her lovers, her crushes, her furious hatreds and the deep sadness she’s packed away and tried to forget. Her silence encourages her visitors to keep talking. Her hospital bedside is a venue for monologues and confessions, declarations of love and stories of betrayal.
Maureen isn’t based on anyone I know. Being able to say only one or a few set words following a stroke is quite common. My dad’s friend, John was a great talker – ‘great craic’ as they say where I come from. In his fifties, he had a stroke and for a while he could only say yes. His story made me think about the impact that losing your speech might have on relationships and how others react to you. Somehow he was able to stay part of the conversation using the word yes to show hearty agreement, extreme scepticism and stern negativity. His cronies all stuck by him. In time, his speech started to trickle, then to flow back. John was a confident outgoing guy; but for some, aphasia can be very isolating. Aphasiaalliance.org has some useful tips on ‘aphasia-friendly communication’.
Yes is set in 1998. There have been huge developments in stroke prevention, treatment and rehabilitation since then. Maureen was lucky because a stranger called an ambulance when she had the stroke. I can’t help thinking that if she’d been at home, she’d have said, ‘Don’t make a fuss, I’ll be okay after a nice cup of tea.’ Campaigns by the Stroke association have helped people know when to call 999 for crucial early treatment.
People have asked me about the book. Is it a romance? There is a bit of romance in it but I think the key relationship is the one between Maureen and her sister Shirley. Inseparable as little girls, their everyday lives are still intertwined, but Maureen realises that they have stepped back further and further from each other when they should have stood together. Maureen is shocked at her sister’s frankness; once Shirley starts talking at the bedside, there’s no stopping her. This is a story as much about the importance of listening as the value of talking.
(And that’s a lesson we could all learn – before it’s too late Anne.)
About Anne Patterson
Anne Patterson is from County Antrim. She lives in London and works for the NHS. Yes is her first novel.
You can follow Anne on Twitter @Patterson13Anne.