Sometimes I choose a book. Sometimes a book comes to me. ‘A Lifetime of Impossible Days’ fits in the latter. I saw a video that Penguin Books had uploaded to its social media of author Tabitha Bird gifting her grandmother her debut novel. It was such a gorgeous video, which really touched me, so of course I gave it a ‘like’. Since then, I’ve interacted a little bit with Tabitha Bird online, who not only promotes her own book, but is so clearly a lover of all books. She tweets and re-tweets to support other authors. I like this a lot about her.
Around the same time, my lovely friend Karen recommended a bookshop to me. Karen and I are part of the same triathlon group, and probably the only two avid bookworms. We love our group dearly, but they probably love their carbon bikes more than they do books. I have more of a love-hate relationship with my bike. One day, Karen said to me that she likes supporting debut authors, and from then on I decided that I would too. Being a debut author requires a lot of courage. Unlike established authors who already have a fanbase, new authors need to find their audience – a nervous kind of excitement.
The bookshop that Karen recommended frequently holds events with authors, and my sweet-tooth immediately drew me to their high tea events. I mean, who doesn’t love a scone and some tea? When I was in store, I cheekily asked about who catered their high teas and found out that one of the staff members actually prepares them herself! What an endearing touch to what is already a much loved bookstore. It just so happens that there will be a high tea with debut novelist Tabitha Bird… and so I decided that I would support ‘A Lifetime of Impossible Days’ and will be attending the high tea with Karen.
Without knowing too much about what the book was going to be about, I bought it more out of loyalty than anything else. It just so happens that the content does interest me a great deal, especially as I bring to it my perspective as a doctor. As I started to read the book, I realise that it so creatively and delicately tackles trans-generational trauma. Having studied psychiatry at medical school, I know a little bit about complex trauma. Willa is an 8 year old girl who is a victim of child abuse, including sexual abuse, and we meet her older selves at ages 33 and 93 through time-travel via a magical ocean in the backyard. Her mother is also a victim of domestic violence.
The three Willas to me represent the three elements of self-parenting, which is a psychological technique to heal from trauma. The adult self is 33 year old ‘Middle Willa’, the inner child – who holds one’s hopes and dreams – is 8 year old ‘Super Gumboots Willa’, and the inner parent – who helps the inner child reach the goals of the adult self, is 93 year old ‘Silver Willa’. These three versions of ‘self’ interact with great intricacy and, ultimately, self-compassion.
Now I’ll take my clinical cap off and talk about the book as a general reader. Although they are the same person, having a ‘voice’ for each of the Willas at their different ages poses a challenge, but there are little linguistic quirks of each of the Willas that pop out of the page. I especially warmed to Silver Willa, whose frustrations with her forgetfulness and her determination to help the younger Willas is so strongly felt.
Whilst the dark aspects of dealing with trauma were heartbreaking, there are beautiful moments throughout the book with my favourite character Grammy, Willa’s grandmother, who is a constant source of love and comfort. I also loved the theme of jam drops and tea shared with loved ones, that sprinkle the book with so much tenderness. It made me think of how much I love my Grandma, too. That’s what I treasured most about reading this book.
Massive congratulations to Tabitha Bird on her debut novel, and I look forward to attending her high tea event to hear more about the Willas!