Sally Hepworth – The Things We Keep – Podcast

Sally discusses her latest book, The Things We Keep, with Rob in the Co-op Chat.

Anna Forster, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease at only thirty-eight years old, knows that her family is doing what they believe to be best when they take her to Rosalind House, an assisted living facility. She also knows there’s just one another resident her age, Luke. What she does not expect is the love that blossoms between her and Luke even as she resists her new life at Rosalind House. As her disease steals more and more of her memory, Anna fights to hold on to what she knows, including her relationship with Luke. Sally wrote The Secrets of Midwives, published worldwide in English, as well as in France, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 2015. A novel about three generations of midwives, The Secrets of Midwives asks readers what makes a mother and what role biology plays in the making and binding of a family. http://www.coop.com.au/the-secrets-of-midwives/9781743538906


 

Rob:
You’re listening to the Co-op Book podcast. I must welcome Sally Hepworth to the Co-op Chat. Hello Sally.


Sally:
Hello, thank you for having me.


Rob:
It’s a pleasure and we’re talking today about your latest novel, the book called These Things We Keep. Now people that have probably read Sally’s best seller, The Secrets Of Midwives, but Sally, this book is very different.


Sally:
Yes, people have said that. That’s been a response I’ve got and yet it has a lot of similarities as well. It still dealing with 3 women, 3 different points of view and it’s to do with women’s health with has been a niche that I have not intended to go into so there are similarities but of course it’s a different book, it’s different challenges that my characters are facing. I think it will appeal to people who liked The Secrets of Midwives that are looking for something different.


Rob:
Now for many people the content may be a little bit challenging, not from anything other than it forces you to face your own future because it focuses on something which doesn’t get a lot of coverage which is early onset Alzheimer’s. How did you come to that as a theme?


Sally:
Well it all started, a little kernel of and idea for this book came 5 years ago when I was writing but I wasn’t thinking about it for a book and I saw a little TV segment on Today Tonight or Current Affair about a woman who was 31 years old and she was newly married and pregnant with her first child and she had just been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. As I said I wasn’t thinking about if for a book at that time but that story stayed with me and I remember her name. Her name was Rebecca Dawg and I didn’t know why I remembered it but I kept thinking about it. 


A few years later I was talking to a cousin of mine who is a nurse at a facility for people with dementia and she was telling me stories about the people in her facility and they were all really uplifting stories. You know, you can be drowned in these horrible stories and it’s a very debilitating terrible illness but in fact, all the stories she was telling me were wonderful. There was one story in particular about a couple that were at the facility that she worked but they weren’t a couple, they had come in separately and they both had memories less than 5 minutes long and yet every day when they came into the communal area of their facility they sat next to each other and they held hands. There’s no way that they would have known that they had held hands the day before, they couldn’t remember what they had done 5 minutes earlier but every day they did the same thing and I just put that together with what I had seen 5 years ago with this young woman and I thought this is an opportunity to write a book that doesn’t focus on the tragedy of this illness but the beauty of it. 


Of course, it’s a realistic story and it does go into some areas of tragedy but what I’ve read most from people who’ve read early copies is that it’s an uplifting story about a difficult topic which is unusual and that’s what makes the book special.

Rob:
Look, you’ve got some cross generational strong female characters, have you always gravitated towards your main characters being in that situation?


Sally:
Yes, and in fact the book that I’m writing now, my next book, also has 3 women of different generations. With The Things We Keep it was initially going to be 2 women which was Anna who is the 38 year old protagonist who has early onset Alzheimer’s and Eve who is a similar age who comes into work at the residential care facility as a cook housekeeper. She was going through a different kind of change in her life and so these 2 stories came together quite well but then as I was writing it I thought there’s something missing here, I need another voice and like with the Secrets of Midwives I thought about it being one of the elderly people in the book and there are many but I thought but no, we need someone young, we need innocence in this book and we need freshness so I have one of my point of view characters as a 7 year old child in this book.


Rob:
I think it’s interesting to get the contrast between the different perspectives and I think there is something in viewing the world through a child’s nonjudgmental eyes.


Sally:
Yes, yes, exactly and she’s going through, Clementine, the 7 year old child is also going through her own tragedy and making sense of the past and that’s what draws these 3 women together, is they’re all facing unreliable pasts and for Anna, she’s accepting her memory is disappearing and for Eve she has found out that her husband is not the person she thought he was and her marriage is not what she thought she was and for Clementine, she’s dealing with the fact that her father isn’t who she thought he was. All of these women have unreliable memories that are able to and they have to decide how they’re going to move forward and what they’re going to use to move forward. That’s why it’s called The Things We Keep, it’s about what you hold onto when you lose so much and what we truly are.


Rob:
I thank you [inaudible 00:06:11], I’ve been one of the lucky people that have read the book because it’s not out until February, is that correct?


Sally:
No, it actually came out in Australia on the 22nd but it’s only just getting into book stores now because of the Christmas rush but it’s coming out into bookstores fairly, right now.


Rob:
Okay. To me I look at all of these women going through their challenges, you know the young girl Clementine, it’s the ability of humanity to adapt and our resilience.


Sally:
Yes, yes and that’s what this book is about. It’s about adapting and resilience and it’s about finding the joy in the situation that you’re in and all of these women are able to do that and it’s how they navigate their way through these challenges and what it makes them. When you feel like you’ve had so much stripped from you you feel like you’ve got nothing left but in fact you do have something left and that’s what this book is about.


Rob:

Tell me, was it hard to follow up after the success of the Midwives?

Sally:
Well I was a bit lucky in this case because I had already written the majority of The Things We Keep by the time The Secrets of Midwives came out so I’ve heard a lot of authors speak about that terror of following up a successful book and looking at the blank screen and wondering what on earth they can write that can match what they had written before and what was so well received but I was not looking at a blank screen, I was looking at a book that was almost finished and so I didn’t have that self doubt and self questioning. Luckily I just finished that book and sent it off. I’ve since written another book which I’m about to deliver to my publisher and that time I started to have those nerves of gee, what if this doesn’t meet expectations? 


I don’t know if as an author you’re ever guaranteed to not get that feeling but not for The Things We Keep. The Things We Keep really I felt confident about it and it was one of those books, doesn’t happen very often in a writers career, so I hear but it was one of those books that really wanted to be written and it came to me fairly easily and without too much self doubt.


Rob:
Tell me a bit about your writing process, like are you systematic? Do you say, “I’m going to write from 8 to 5.” Do you plan things out or does it just come out?


Sally:
Well, I write from 9h30 until 15h00 because I work around school hours, I have little children. In terms of plotting, there’s 2 schools of thought, there’s the plotter and the pancer and I think I’m somewhere between. I call myself a plancer because I do plot at a high level, sometimes I plot more intricately. I do always plot. I feel really envious of writers who talk about having an organic kind of process and they just have an idea of what the books about and they just write. For me I need to know what my characters are going to be challenged with along the way. I never know the ending. I don’t know how they’re going to respond to those challenges but I do have an idea of what’s going to happen but then in between those plot points a lot of things happen organically. I find that I may find my way to the midpoint of the book and realize that that challenge isn’t going to work and I will change it so it’s just about having a structure for me to write within and the magic happens within that structure. Often the structure changes but to have no structure I think for me would be a bit debilitating so I’m a plancer, I’ve coined that phrase.


Rob:
A plancer. We’ve got it here logged if anyone else wants to try and claim plancing. Now as you know many of our listeners are either at university or just finished university, what was uni like for you? Where did you go? What did you do?


Sally:

I did an arts degree at Monash University and it was the best thing I could ever do. I had people say, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought about doing journalism, I thought about doing various writing things and in the end I thought, I didn’t want to be a journalist, I knew I wanted to work with words but the journalism degree seemed to be going in a different direction to what I was looking for. When I decided to do arts some people said it’s a degree in nothing but in fact it’s a degree in everything and it gave me such a good groundwork in life and in history and in information that I was really well versed to do anything. I came out of university and did various jobs. I worked in event management, I worked in human resources. I went back and studied a bit more to become a human resources professional. Then at age 29 decided to write a book when I had a degree, I had life experience, I’d had various jobs and I still think the arts degree was the b est thing I ever did.

Rob:
Okay, a lot of people clapping to themselves listening to this I think. What do you enjoy reading or who do you enjoy reading?


Sally:
My all time favorite author, Australian author is Leon Marriati. He’s obviously had massive success commercially. I’ve been reading her books since the first one and so I felt a little bit like I had ownership of her when Husband’s Secret came out and went completely crazy and broke out. She’s one of my favorite authors. I also love Jodi Piccault, I love Sue Monkid. I try to keep an eye on what’s happening in the New York Times best seller list, to read what everyone is excited about because I write commercial fiction. I also go to a lot of literary festivals and I love discovering a new author, especially local authors so will buy books from them and hopefully disco ver someone new. Yeah, definitely, Leon Marriati is my number one author whenever anyone asks me.


Rob:
That’s good to hear. You’ve touched on you’ve got another book coming out. Any hints on themes or anything like that?


Sally:
Yeah it’s due on the 30th of this month so I’m frantically finishing it right now but it’s called By Myself With You and like my previous books it has 3 women, different generations again and it deals again with women’s health. That’s probably about as much as I can say but I think it will appeal to the readers of my previous books and it will still be something different and a new challenge and a new thing which is relevant to a lot of people.


Rob:
As everyone knows who listens to the Co-op chat The Things We Keep will be available either online on the Co-op website or obviously in store around campuses around Australia so Sally, thank you for your time.
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