Anne-Marie Cockburn on publishing 5,742 Days
by Anne-Marie Cockburn, author of 5,742 Days
I get a call from my publisher to say copies of my book have arrived. I jump on my bike and cycle the two miles into town to collect a few copies. I bring them home and sit quietly looking at them – Martha’s beautiful face on the glossy cover stares out at me. Am I doing the right thing Martha, I wonder? Too late now, I add. What am I worried about? I suppose it’s fear of the unknown, which is fair enough – over the past few months I’ve had enough shocks to last a lifetime.
I think hard about why I’ve gone as far as publishing a book; it’s not something I planned strategically. The writing flowed out of me every day and this activity instantly made me feel better. I didn’t write thinking it would be read, which is why it’s written entirely without any self-conscious filter. The book is a by-product of my reaction to Martha’s death and my use of writing as therapy to help myself cope.
I needed to place my focus somewhere and make use of all that hope I had been channelling into Martha’s life. Having something to do, a new project to occupy me, distracts me from the darkness that echoes around my mind. The book is helping to shift the focus away from my first Christmas without her.
Today, the Guardian published my first official interview, which includes excerpts from the book. I was shaking last night as I thought about where this will all take me when my story is out in the public domain in such a raw form. I’m not media savvy and despite my inner strength, I’m also never too far from fragile, so I understandably don’t want to jeopardise my recovery by adding any undue stress. So I remind myself that writing has enabled me to gather my thoughts and journal experiences I would otherwise be likely to forget. Simple as that.
I don’t need to worry about how this is received by the wider media as the story really speaks for itself – no need for any embellishment or added drama, it’s sobering and grounding in its simplest format.
Anyway, I felt that the Guardian feature was a beautiful account and the overall tone was faithful to my voice and emotions. The headline is ‘Losing Martha’, which made my stomach churn as I glanced at it for the first time, next to her beautiful photograph. I read the story eagerly and was relieved that there was nothing to be concerned about.
One comment on the Guardian website read, ‘So stark. So beautifully written – but so hardwired from the heart, it is almost too painful to read.’ I like to think that this opinion will change once the reviewer has read the entire book, to something more like ‘Positive and uplifting, full of hope and determination’, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. At first glance, you would definitely think that my story would be too much to take – but in reality it is not like this; it’s a journey, an interesting, gripping and hopeful one.
My way of grieving is personal to me, but it’d be nice to think that I can show people that there is another way, one that can include laughter, joy and self-belief, alongside the inevitable emotional turmoil and anxiety. I’ve deliberately avoided wearing black and I’ve been tough with myself. For instance, if I was reminded of Martha in a specific shop, I’d force myself to go back there a few times so that the reference is no longer about her but about me. I don’t want to be constantly haunted but there are sixteen and a half years of rewiring to do and that would be an impossible thing to try to achieve.
I wonder how people felt as they read the article: did they have to stop and move on to something lighter such as the food section, relieved that they are not me, or did they persevere to the end? Did my story make them grab their children and hold them tight for a moment, glad that they’re safe and well? Or are there others out there like me who have outlived their own children, my story reminding them of their darkest hours?
I receive an email from a mother who saw a recent article written about me. She said, ‘…Heartiest condolences, I have no words that could properly express how sad I feel at what happened to your daughter. I would like to thank you for sharing your raw grief, I feel it will help other people a lot. Personally I will make sure my two daughters read your book before they try any drugs if they choose to. I believe children should be helped to make up their own decisions, and your work helps to show how dangerous a single moment can be and provide a perspective on the issue that is often lost. It is a great help to me as a parent to be able to present this information to my children.’
This email helps to banish any doubts that seep into my mind and confirm that what I’m undertaking is going to help others. It’s great to receive feedback of this type as it endorses what I hope to achieve over the next few months.
Today’s newspaper is relevant for 24 hours. It’s now 22:02, so as the piles of today’s newspapers are gathered up and dropped into recycling bins, my beautiful girl’s face looks up at them and fades like a ghost. I can’t close the newspaper and forget, I can’t sigh with relief and be grateful that it didn’t happen to me. I still struggle and find it hard to believe that it did happen, but I have to detach myself from the truth sometimes in order to cope. I wish I could glance through the article and be horrified for someone else – but I stop myself as I wouldn’t want to inflict what I’m enduring upon another living soul. I wish this wasn’t my story though, I don’t like this story. I’ll take my story to the library and swap it for another one – something lighthearted and fluffy would be nice.