Today I am very honoured to introduce Jackie McGregor as my Guest Author. Jackie is a journalist, columnist, poet, author and editor. Born in Northern Ireland she writes a weekly column for the Belfast News Letter. Here Jackie discusses her new charity book The House That Built Me, a unique anthology of memories from famous faces from the worlds of television, music, film and books. Jackie explains how, not long after losing her father, a ghost hunter came knocking at her door and provided her with the inspiration for the book. The book is dedicated to Jackie’s parents, both of whom have sadly passed away and both of whom suffered from Alzheimer’s. It is a charity book and 100% of the royalties will go to the Alzheimer’s Society. So read on everyone and dig deep for a very worthy cause.
My book, The House That Built Me, was inspired by an encounter with a ghost hunter.
I was coping with the recent loss of my father who had passed away from Alzheimer’s, when a knock came at my door and there stood a stranger. He smiled at me as though he was waiting for me to recognise him, but I had no idea who he was.
‘I’ve come back!’ he announced, ‘I used to live here’.
I looked at him thinking that perhaps he might have a form of dementia. I had become so used to strange behaviour whilst visiting my father in the nursing home, that I had begun to put down any odd antics exhibited by an elderly person as dementia. I had lived in the Alzheimer’s bubble for so long!
‘I think you must be mistaken I’ve lived here my entire life!’ I said eyeing him suspiciously. What on earth did he want?
‘I’ve been away. I’ve come back for my mother’s funeral. I’ve been living in New Zealand for over twenty-five years but this was my childhood home. I lived here from 1944-1964,’ he sighed sadly.
‘There was a beautiful tree here,’ he said pointing to where indeed, over thirty years ago, there had once stood a cherry blossom tree. No one else would have known that. He went on to describe how the house used to look. He recounted features from many years ago that had long since gone, like the little sun room and the rockery. I knew from those memories that he had once existed within those same walls. He had come in search of his past. He kept looking over my shoulder into the house as though he was trying to catch a glimpse of something or someone familiar. Perhaps he felt particles of his parents still remained there, maybe they do! I often sense a presence in my home, but it’s a calming, reassuring one. I love the house. I feel my late parents left whispers of their souls behind in the rooms, their invisible footprints cover the floors where they once walked.
I have always been fiercely protective of the house, having being born and raised there and now I am bringing up my own son in the same rooms where I grew up and where his father and I did our teenage courting.
I didn’t invite the man in. I didn’t feel comfortable enough to do so. His presence felt akin to my spouse’s former lover returning to try and rekindle their romance. The stranger’s visit aroused a feeling of possessiveness within me.
We spoke for over half an hour. He told me of how his mother had died just two weeks short of her hundredth birthday. I shared with him how both my parents battled with Alzheimer’s. He described how he used to catch the tram at the top of the street to school. I revealed the paw prints in the cement on the driveway belonged to my dog who died when I was eleven. In all honesty we weren’t really listening to each other. We were caught up in memoires of yesteryear as we relived happy childhood moments in our minds whilst verbalising them into the air.
Eventually we parted. As he turned to walk away he said he had felt comforted from seeing the house again and asked me if it had been a happy home. I assured him that it had.
For days afterwards, I couldn’t get his melancholy pilgrimage out of my mind. Turning on the radio I heard a song called The House That Built Me by Miranda Lambert. I had never heard the tune before but oddly it described exactly the experience I had just had with the ghost hunting stranger. The lyrics described a woman going back to her childhood home because she felt she had lost her way in the world, she thought that perhaps revisiting where she was raised would help her heal. It was then that the idea came to me of putting a charity book together. Perhaps I could collect childhood memoires from celebrities to help those who have lost their memories through Alzheimer’s.
I received some wonderful stories from Hollywood actress Carey Mulligan, Lorraine Kelly, Alan Titchmarsh, Fearne Cotton, Ed Balls, Anne Widdecombe, Shane Richie, Bill Oddie, Cherie Blair and lots of other well-known people. Many wonderful authors kindly got involved too including Trisha Ashley, Lisa Jewell, Milly Johnson, Margaret James, Deborah Moggach, Christina Jones, Jill Mansell and more. Along with the memories I wrote about my own experience of being a carer twice over to two parents who took Alzheimer’s one after the other.
I constantly try to raise awareness about this disease through my newspaper column which I have been writing for the Belfast News Letter for the past eleven years.
Compiling and writing this book was incredibly therapeutic and sometimes extremely difficult. I revisited those terrible days of isolation and hopelessness in my mind and recalled how my mother, whom hadn’t recognised my father for years, suddenly had a moment of clarity days before her death. Mum rose up from her hospital bed called dad by name, clung to him and told him that she loved him for the last time. As I pictured that precious moment and the delighted expression on my father’s face, tears ran down my cheeks and trickled into the keyboard.
The celebrity memory contributions are sometimes very revealing, making them a fascinating read as we glimpse into the writer’s past. Bill Oddie wrote emotionally about his mother’s mental health problems, Rowan Coleman recounts the day she saw Jesus’s sandal in the sky and Jo Wood remembers her childhood home which had a vicar buried beneath the front door step!
I am very grateful to all of those who took the time to participate in this charity book of which 100% of my royalties will go to the Alzheimer’s Society.
The House That Built Me will be published by Accent Press on 19th May.
The House That Built Me can be pre-ordered here.
Jackie also wrote They Can’t Take That Away From Me described as “a musical memory tour with the stars to a place where it is yesterday once more.” This book is also raising funds for Alzheimer’s. Available here.