My Auntie Jose died on July 4th, finally succumbing to the lung cancer that had been diagnosed eighteen months previously. She was my Dad’s older sister, although only by a year, so when they were youngsters they were usually together, playing in the street or on the nearby fields with the gang of kids from the neighbourhood. They lived in a terraced house on Beaumont Street in a small mining town called Hoyland Common, and it’s this little house – three-up, two-down – that abides in my memory, and that appeared in fictionalised form as Eve and Arthur William’s house in Netherwood.
Auntie Jose (that isn’t a mis-spelling, by the way; she was Josephine, and that’s the abbreviation she chose, adding a jaunty acute accent to the final ‘e’, which I can’t reproduce because I’m inept at keyboard technology) was proud as punch at the publication of Netherwood and then Ravenscliffe. It makes me sadder than I can express that she isn’t here to cheer on Eden Falls when it’s published on September 12th. Mind you, she confided to my Mum that there were some words in Ravenscliffe that she’d never heard of – she didn’t elaborate on exactly which ones, and now I’ll never know. Of course, I suppose if she hadn’t heard of them, she wouldn’t remember them either. But that said, she would have lined up the third novel alongside the other two on her bookcase, and bragged about it to the lovely Macmillan nurses who helped lighten the last few weeks of her life.
Her death is the first significant bereavement I’ve experienced, and the loss of her has left me vulnerable to great washes of sorrow at unpredictable moments, quite out of the blue. It has also reminded me of the passing of time, the inevitability of death, the fragility of life … all those things we know to be true but which rarely impinge on our daily consciousness. I’m glad and grateful that through my writing I’ve been able to talk to Auntie Jose about the past; just like Dad and Mum, she allowed me to plunder her memories of growing up in a pit town, so that Auntie’s memories mingled with everyone else’s and my own, to emerge on the pages of my novels.
She would have liked Eden Falls I think (notwithstanding the occasional unknown word, such as ‘notwithstanding’, perhaps). The Jamaican scenes would have reminded her of all the foreign holidays she took over the years, always in the company of her friend and soulmate, Dorothy, whose loss is so much greater than the rest of the family’s. I wish Auntie was still here but, since we can’t have her back, I’m glad she was who she was: an indomitable, feisty little Yorkshire woman, with a soft spot for her two nieces.