Inspiration for The Temptation of Gracie by SJV
It was February 2017. Everything was going swimmingly. I had written the first ten or so chapters of my novel and I was very pleased with what I had written. After the Deverill trilogy, which is set in Country Cork, it was refreshing to be writing about Italy, basking in the fragrance and feel of Tuscany. I love the heaps of oleander, the inky green cypress trees, the corduroy fields of vines and endless acres of olive groves. I adore the smell of the dry summer heat and the scents of wild thyme and pine that fill the air along with the loud chirruping of crickets. My imagination was sweeping me away from the grey drizzle of London to that sensual country and I was loving every minute of it. I had a spring in my step because I was ahead of my schedule. My July deadline was a benign dot on the horizon and I was already a third of the way through the book and on a roll, writing a chapter a day. I was set to finish long before I needed to. Life was good. Very good.
Then my sister died.
There really aren’t any words to describe the shock and pain of losing someone like that. Those who have lost know exactly what it means to cry your heart out. That silent howl which goes so deep it seems to pull up your insides. The bewildering lack of control. The sense of stepping into a parallel world where everything looks the same as it always has but feels so frighteningly different.
Tara’s death at 45, from a perforated ulcer, was unexpected. One moment I was happily writing my book, the next I was called by her PA and told to go straight to her apartment because her cleaner had found her seemingly unconscious. When I reached her flat it was a hive of activity. Police, forensics and goodness knows who else, coming in and out with grave and officious faces. And the bobby by the door, with his arms crossed, telling me I can’t go in. ‘Sorry ma’am,’ he said, a little uncomfortably. ‘She’s already passed.’ One moment she was there, the next she was not.
It was like hitting a brick wall. Like running down an alley to find a dead end. My first thought was for my parents. How was I going to tell them their daughter had died? How could I? My second thought was for myself. Regret. The things I’d left unsaid. The longing to be able to wrap my arms around her and tell her that everything would be okay. The cold fact that I no longer could. That everything was not ok. That it never really would be again. Because the awful truth about loss is that it doesn’t go away. Not ever. You learn to live with it. Of course you do; but you live differently.
I limped through the following weeks, cradling my heart in my arms as if it were a fragile piece of cracked porcelain. But I was full of love. You see, that’s the thing about grief, if it doesn’t make you bitter and angry, it makes you compassionate and appreciative. I received support from my friends and family and the love that wrapped itself around me was as soft as eiderdown. Yet, the difference between light and dark was suddenly much more pronounced. There are shadows in my life now where there weren’t shadows before, and those murky shades will never go away. Life has suddenly got serious. But with that seriousness is an appreciation for my blessings and a stronger belief in life after death and our spiritual purpose here. I think about Tara every day. I think about where she is and wonder what she’s doing. And I know she lives on; we all will.
I have seen Tara three times since her death – I’ve seen spirits all my life, so I knew she’d come through for me at some stage. I’m glad she did. It’s ironic that the child who was terrified of ghosts and hated listening to accounts of my nocturnal experiences, became a ghost herself. I also see signs of her presence all the time. She’s definitely around and wanting us to know that she’s around. In typical Tara form, those signs are characteristically mischievous.
I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish my novel by July, but I did. Tara’s death changed me. It changed me profoundly. And naturally, it altered the course of the book. We are all a sum of our experiences and, as a writer, those experiences colour what I write. That’s the lovely thing about writing, nothing is wasted. All the good and all the bad, it goes into a great big pot out of which I draw my themes and plots and characters. Of course, there is no silver lining to such a dark cloud, and yet my sister’s death has taught me so much about life. It has broadened my perspective, widened my view, driven me deeper so that I am wiser, more compassionate and empathetic. In The Temptation of Gracie one of my characters says that grief is like crossing a bridge. You can never turn back and be the person you were before. Life is different on the other side and so are you.
The Temptation of Gracie started off being the easiest of my novels to write, yet it turned into the hardest. I’m proud that I managed it. I’m proud too that it is possibly the best book I have written. I feel that Tara would be happy too. That her death has made me bigger, not smaller. That it has made me a better person not a bitter one. That it has taught me valuable things. But that’s what life’s challenges are here to do, to make us grow. We can either let them diminish us, or we can search for the lesson within every one and rise like the phoenix out of the flame.
I have dedicated The Temptation of Gracie to Tara. I know she will like that, wherever she is. I hope that she is close.