Today I have Helen Brown here to answer some questions about her moving memoir, Cleo. Click here to read my review of Cleo.
When did you decide to write Cleo?
First of all, thank you, Kelli, for your interest in our story.
During my years as a newspaper columnist I’d always get a huge response from readers whenever I wrote about Cleo. I didn’t imagine the story of our life with her and how she helped us recover from Sam’s death would make a book, however.
When Cleo finally left us after nearly 24 years, Sam’s younger brother Rob said “There goes our last living connection with Sam”. It was one of those “Aha!” moments when I suddenly understood what Cleo had done for us, and how much she deserved a tribute.
It seems like it would be so painful to relive the memories of Sam's death. How cathartic did you find the writing process to be?
More than anything I wanted this book to be helpful to other parents who have lost children. Raw, outpourings of emotion are fine and necessary, but they’re probably best kept in a private journal. I needed the space of 25 years to tell our story in a way that had any hope of being constructive.
While I was half way through writing the book I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. When I became well enough to start work again I looked at what I’d written and thought it was too serious and self pitying. I ripped half of it out and started again.
After I’d submitted the manuscript my editor, Jude McGee, asked me to delve into the deeper, more painful aspects of losing Sam. I had to take a deep breath before sitting in front of the computer on those days. I wouldn’t describe the experience as cathartic, more like a journey of remembered pain.
By the way, I’m in good health now, and my prognosis is excellent.
What do you say to people who don't like cats or say they are not "cat people"?
They don’t offend me in the least. Quite a few of our friends are allergic to cats. I feel sorry for them. They’re missing out on something incredibly special.
I swore I’d never get another cat. As we all know people should never swear. While I was recovering from the mastectomy a crazy Siamese kitten called Jonah bounced into our lives. He was a great help writing the book because he reminded me what a nightmare kittens can be. He curled on my lap in front of the computer every day. He’s vain, possessive and highly strung. In fact he became so jealous of the time I was spending writing he tore four letters off the keyboard, including “e” – the most commonly used letter in the English language.
What's next for you?
So many readers have written in saying they didn’t want the book to end I’m planning a sequel. I’m pleased to say there’s no shortage of material.
Cleo is on the New York Times best seller list and in 14 languages. It’s also going to be a movie. Why do you think the book has been so successful?
As human beings we tend to concentrate on our differences. But no matter where people live or what culture we belong to, we’re actually very similar. We all love our children more than life itself, and pets can be our greatest healers.
Thank you so much for your time, Ms. Brown! It was great to learn more about you. We wish you all the best!