Off The Shelf

Tonight was one of those much needed reawakenings. I’ve become a bit of a fanatic of attending Literature festivals and hearing authors speak, and so was estatic to see Cathy Rentzenbrink was scheduled to speak at the Sheffield Off The Shelf festival. For those of you don’t know of her work, she is the bestselling author of The Last Act of Love which is her honest, raw and incredible memoirs of losing her brother; I actually lined this up as one of my favourite reads of the year and posted about it here. She released her follow up A Manual for Heartache earlier this year which I am still in the process of reading.

This evening was one of the best talks I have yet attended. It was small, intimate and Cathy herself was a fountain of humour and honesty. She spoke about the process of coming to write both books and how her prior work experience enabled her to believe she was worthy of becoming a writer herself as well as the frustration of the writing process itself. Most authors reach the final finished product and of course, the most obvious talk is that of the book itself, but her frankness in that feeling of imposter syndrome was something I could really relate to.

Since my Father passed away, it’s been a daily battle at trying to figure out who I am now and how best to remember him. Due to the nature of his disease, it is not surprising that my current mental picture is of him attached to his oxygen bottle struggling to breathe. Whilst many of his loved ones have returned to that image of perfect health and of his funny, kind and unique personality, my fragmented memory of him is now more focussed on the trauma of his final months than of the real loving relationship I held with him.

I was given the opportunity for Cathy to sign my book and to ask her something that came to mind; how does she define the memory of her brother considering the awful circumstance he was left in that would inevitably take hold. Her response was lovely in that she asked more questions back, persuing what she could recognise was similar to her experience in that the long lasting effects of trauma can really debilitate your progress in moving forward with your new life. A new life that she explained herself as if a guillotine had chopped a slice of paper in half, your old life is behind and now you have to adapt to the new person that you are faced with. You have no choice. It’s distressing, upsetting and at best, exhausting to live through.

A big part of me is still processing everything that was said tonight because so much of it rung true. So much of it was sitting within me and hearing someone else say it all out loud, has made me realise that I need to face some truths, but also I’m not alone on this difficult road. The best way to define is that I see Cathy as my new spirit animal, she is truly awe inspiring but ultimately lovely and I urge you all if given the opportunity, to seek her out and be sure to read her work.



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