Tanya Ravenswater on Writing about Grief and Suicide


Hello, internet! Today, I have the wonderful Tanya Ravenswater, author of Jacques, on writing about grief and suicide. Jacques is a beautiful, and touching novel which is out now. 

Displaying Tanya Ravenswater.jpgThe importance of writing about ‘darker’ aspects of life.

I’ve always said that I don’t really believe in signs of the Zodiac, although occasionally I’ve been struck by how uncannily relevant the details of a particular horoscope have been. I’m on the Libra-Scorpio cusp, which means apparently that I have traits associated with both star signs. A believer once suggested to me, ‘So, you’ll be all about love, death and depth then.’ They nodded knowingly and narrowed their eyes as they said it, which slightly unnerved me, although I had to admit there was probably a far measure of truth in the summary.

In my début coming-of-age novel Jacques, grief, suicide and confronting mortality are core themes. The story is balanced by the discovery of a new sense of belonging, happiness, pleasure and love.

Displaying Jacques.jpgAsking questions about what’s really important and gives a life meaning is an inescapable part of who I am as a person and writer. I’ve often been frustrated in conversations when, just as we seemed to be getting to the nub of something significant and interesting, comments such as ‘Anyway, best change the subject before we get too gloomy’ or an apology, ‘Sorry, didn’t mean to get so dark and serious there’ signalled a request for a halt or change of direction. For ‘serious’ also substitute ‘intense’ or ‘philosophical’.

I’m not proposing that we all have to be constantly introspective, lost in mournful reflection, picking at our own emotional wounds and guilty if we’re not forever dwelling on our mortality or other people’s suffering. Deliberately cultivating the habits of an imploding dark star hardly does much for us, or anyone else. It makes sense to try to be as happy and light-hearted as much as you can, when can you can. At the same time, what happens and how we feel isn’t always within our control and we have to discover ways of getting through, whether by self-acceptance, expression, or distracting ourselves from what’s ‘too much’, using humour and irony to survive what’s excruciatingly true.
For me, the best fiction and poetry provides a context capable of holding complex dynamics, which allows tensions to be without forcing limited pragmatic resolutions. The writing is where the writer integrates and offers feelings and observations, a space a reader can enter freely to reflect and take what they find, without obligation to speak or endorse a single opinion. Through diversity of characters and imagery all kinds of perspectives and possibilities for interpretation are simultaneously present.

True, death, grief and suicide can be very difficult subjects to confront, but that makes it all the more crucial that the novelist or poet reaches towards exploring them. The act of writing about such territory implies that it is somehow possible to ‘go there’  and to develop empathy and understanding. Those who are ‘going through it’  may also know that somewhere there is a place for feelings that elsewhere may be regarded as uncomfortable, maudlin, ‘pathological’ or ‘too heavy’.

Displaying Jacques Blog Tour Banner.pngThere is the overall idea of journey in a story, the indication that however distressing at times, life keeps shifting, moving forward, things constantly balancing out over time. While for most writers, myself included, excavating the ‘dark’ involves elements of catharsis, the creation and completion of the work demands that we move beyond the simple outpouring of our own raw emotions.

In my own experience of coping with loss, including the impact of suicide, I’ve often found a feeling of resonance in reading a poem or a passage in a novel that has been the closest I’ve come to comfort. In previous work as a nurse and a bereavement counsellor, I learned a lot from people about the particular ways they felt grief and lived with loss. One of the things I heard most frequently was about how grief could be compounded by a lack of simple acknowledgment.

I’ve never been one for believing in the benefits of suffering, but I do feel that there is wisdom to be gained through reflecting on death and bereavement. Listening to ourselves and to others on such edges can advise us properly, I think, of real priorities - what’s worth investing in, what’s frankly superficial and a waste of energy. Feeling deeply, whether in love or grief, sharpens perspective and appreciation, indicating what is most of worth to each of us personally.

Thank you to Tanya for being on the blog, and to find out about her novel Jacques click here, and you can follow Tanya on Twitter by clicking here.

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