Thursday, 19 April 2012

Q is for Quality of Life


I know this is a strange one, and you wouldn't have assumed it was about writing. But books are about big ideas, and those ideas have to be heartfelt ones in order to sustain a writer's interest over many thousands of words and several drafts. Quality of life is the big idea at the heart of Borrowed Time.

We make choices all the time about quality of life. My cat's old, should I take her to vet and have her put down? OK, now she's limping, is it time? Thyroid problems, that means tablets every day, how about now, she hates the tablets? She has cancer, how about now?

My daughter was born with a disability, then acquired a secondary, terminal illness. I'm not suggesting we should have taken her to the vet to be put down, but certainly at the very end, I agonised over how much pain relief she was having, whether it was OK to sedate her into sleep to avoid the agony, whether it was all right to let her dehydrate (because she wouldn't drink) or whether we should take her to hospital (which she loathed and might have extended her life by a few days/weeks). I've also worked in places where end-of-life decisions are made all the time.

So in my novel, someones life is extended by artificial means, without their consent. She is essentially disabled, has to be very careful not to lose her tenuous hold on life. She will never finish her education, hold down a job, or have a child. Worse, she has only been saved to help other people. I realise on some level this is wish fulfilment, because I probably would want my daughter back on those terms, but would she? As I come up to what would have been her 28th birthday, I wonder if her disability and illness would have been acceptable to her, and I'm allowing my character to think about her quality of life.

What big idea is at the heart of your story?

6 comments:

  1. Difficult question what is quality of life? Who makes the choice. I've been clear about my wishes and have been guardian for an elderly aunt.
    The experience greatly impacted me but I haven't incorporated into my writing.
    Kate
    http://whenkateblogs.blogspot.com/

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    1. I wonder if all the really big themes in our lives influence our writing, even if we don't write about them explicitly. I want the life for my characters that I would like, to some extent. Health, love, happiness...I think I aim for similar things for them.

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  2. Difficult to answer. I think quality of life is the question that living wills intend to answer, to a point. I think that were completely unable to move- my brain still functioned while the rest of my body couldn't, I would like to be terminated. Being unable to communicate would destroy my sanity.

    My first wife had a heart attack when she was 36. There was significant damage to her heart, but despite that, she managed a reasonable quality of life until the second one took her from me. Admittedly there were things she couldn't do, like travel by sea (caused a heart issue for some reason)- but she lived a good life to the end. If that quality of life hadn't been there, it would have been a lot harder.

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    1. Thank you for answering, Torggil. I must admit, if I couldn't communicate I don't think me life would be bearable, no matter how much I love my family. Maybe that's just us storytellers. I was widowed when I was 31, small world. I'm glad, with hindsight, that he was diagnosed with leukaemia and died in teh same day, he would have hated the slow death. He also missed our daughter's death by ten months, another trial I'm glad he didn't have to go through. I suspect all our big experiences can make us richer writers.

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  3. thanks for prompting me to think about it. For my first novel, The Halfie-Halfie Girl, the big idea was the power of the past and how to escape it. The current one, Half an Hour from Pakistan, hovers around the impulse to do good, our motives for doing good and how it often goes horribly wrong. the tricky thing for me is to successfully wrap a page turner around the big idea without too much of its slip showing.

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  4. Like you, I wanted to keep the 'big idea' the secret skeleton of the story. Your books sound fascinating, just the sort of thing I like to read! Thank you for visiting.

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