Jeannette Gomez, of iSeniorSolutions, based in Texas, interviewed me (by email) about my book.
We had the pleasure to speak with author Ann Richardson. She is the author of “Celebrating Grandmothers”, a book about the views and experiences of grandmothers, told by grandmothers. When you think of your grandma you picture her as a sweet little, quite old lady, however that is not always the case. A grandmother is so much more. She is full of joy, wisdom, love and sometimes sadness. All grandmothers have a story to tell.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer.
First, my background. I was born and brought up in the USA, but married an Englishman, so I have lived in London, England most of my adult life. I have a BA and MA from American universities and a PhD from the London School of Economics. My husband and I have now been married 52 years, a long time in modern life. We have two children, both married, and both have one child, hence I have two grandsons aged nine and five.
I think I have always been a writer, inasmuch as I enjoyed it and was well praised for my writing at school. At one stage, I thought I would like to write novels, as I was fascinated by the texture of other people’s lives, but felt I lacked the necessary imagination. Eventually, I became a researcher into social and health issues and put my writing skills to good use writing reports, articles and the occasional book. After some years, I decided to go freelance and I was hired by others to do research as well as editing. My research was not quantitative (counting things) but what is known as ‘qualitative’, i.e. interviews and focus groups about how people feel about different issues. I wrote on widely varying subjects, having no expertise on a single topic but the ability to turn my skills to whatever anyone asked me to work on. Most of what I wrote was intended for social care and health professionals.
Can you tell us about your books?
People who do qualitative research always use quotes to ‘illustrate’ their points, but then try to summarize the issues. I came to feel that the quotes were the most interesting bits and it was important to let people speak for themselves. Ordinary people from all walks of life can be incredibly articulate and it seemed a shame to lose the wonderful color that their words convey. If you assure them anonymity, they are usually very honest as well, so you can learn a lot from seeing the world from their perspective. The skill comes in knowing how to interview and, when you have word for word transcripts, knowing how much to edit (I never add words, but I do cut out some repetition). I began to draw more and more heavily on quotations in my writing and eventually decided it would be interesting to write a book that was based wholly on quotations, aside from brief introductions.
I was also becoming increasingly interested in writing for the general public, rather than professionals in health and social care. I therefore used my spare time to write my own books (in contrast to those which had been commissioned).
The first book that I wrote of this kind was about people with HIV and AIDS, entitled Wise Before their Time: people with HIV and AIDS talk about their lives. Based on interviews with men and women from all over the world (all at an AIDS conference in London in 1991), it was published in 1992, and was quite successful in sales terms. It gives a real feel for what it is like to be young and knowing you have a life-threatening disease. It is still available onAmazon for about the price of the postage.
The second book of this kind was about people providing hospice care, Life in a Hospice: reflections on caring for the dying, published in 2007. It gives a real feel for what it is like to work every day with dying people. You ask me about this below, so I will not say more here.
Celebrating Grandmothers is the third book I have written in this genre. I think it gives a real feel for what it is like to be a grandmother. It is not an advice book, but there is a lot any grandmother can learn from what the women who were interviewed have to say.
I absolutely love doing this work and am always happy when I am working on a book. Interviews with complete strangers are a form of discovery – you never know what you are going to hear and how they are going to express themselves, but I am rarely disappointed. There is the pleasure in hearing different stories and then the challenge of weaving them together into a coherent whole.
Can you describe what it was like for you to become a grandmother for the first time?
Becoming a grandmother is the same whether it is the first time or not, rather like having a baby. Each time, there is a sense of utter joy.
But it is not the ‘becoming’ a grandmother that is important – it is the day-to-day feeling of being a grandmother that interests me. It brings a whole lot of love – both yours for them and theirs for you. It is a complex role, sometimes a challenging one, but brings all the excitement of having children without all the mundane chores. There is so much to it – the cuddling of babies, the playing with smaller children and helping them as they grow to learn about the world. It can change the nature of your relationship with your son and daughter and with their partner/spouse. You feel you have moved up in the world and play an important role in keeping the family together, offering help and support.
Grandchildren keep you in touch with the world and are the constant source of delight. My five year old grandson said to me last week ‘Granny, can you do me a favor? Can you and Granddad do your very best to stay healthy, because I want my children to know their great-grandparents!’ What can be nicer than that?
For me, this was all a big surprise as I did not have close relationships with my own grandmothers (one lived too far away and one was not all that interested).
Why do you feel it is important to celebrate grandmothers?
I think grandmothers are too little celebrated and too little is written about them. Other people think that grandmothers are just dull older women, although we know better. This lack of attention will probably change as women of the ‘baby boomer’ generation find themselves grandmothers. We are already getting a lot of books and movies centering on older people and some advice books for grandmothers.
My book was originally going to be called ‘Being a Grandmother’ as this is what it is about, but everyone said that sounded boring. (It isn’t the least bit boring being a grandmother, but the title was.) I wanted an upbeat and catchy title.
My book explores what it feels like to be a grandmother in all different aspects. It shows the love and concern, of course, but also all the complicated issues like how it feels to try to offer advice to a son or daughter about their child’s upbringing – or how not to do so. It lets grandmothers talk about their views of doing a lot of childcare, their hopes for their grandchildren and how being a grandmother affects their view of themselves. There is a lot to talk about and, well, celebrate.
What advice would you give to a new grandmother to be?
I am not an advice giver to anyone, but I can only say ‘enjoy the experience and be yourself’. Get to know your grandchildren as much as you can and let them get to know you. There are as many kinds of grandmothers as there are women and many different ways of being a grandmother. My book shows some of these and lets women reflect on their own experiences.
What inspired you to write about grandmothers?
As I have shown in my other answers, being a grandmother is incredibly fulfilling. I love being a grandmother and I love writing books – the two seemed made for each other. But I don’t like writing about myself (I am quite a private person), so I thought it was a perfect opportunity to let other grandmothers talk about themselves and their feelings. I am delighted with what they had to say.
Your book, “Life in a Hospice: Reflections on caring for the dying” was this an emotional book to write? Hospices tend to sound gloomy and a bit scary for those who really do not know what goes on inside a Hospice. Would you say that your book has changed that misconception?
I had already written a book about people with AIDS and HIV back in 1992, when people were dying, and had a close friend with AIDS who died. I became interested in making dying a good experience, which is what hospices do, and went to work as a volunteer in a local hospice. In the UK, hospices are places where people go when they are nearing death, although as in the US they also have outreach workers going into people’s homes.
I found the hospice to be a very calm, peaceful place – not exactly ‘happy’ but definitely uplifting – and I felt it was a privilege to be able to be there. They are full of wonderful people who spend their time working out how to make people comfortable and at ease with themselves when they die. I was fascinated in how people could spend their working days with dying people and decided to write a book about this. It is not a sad book, but in many ways a comforting one. I would love to think that my book would help to dispel any misconceptions about hospice care, but regrettably it was never well publicized, was very expensive (not my decision) and therefore was not widely sold.
This was originally published on the website of iSeniorSolutions: https://www.iseniorsolutions.com/celebrating-grandmothers/