Saying goodbye through fiction

Award-winning author Julie Hodgson says her new novella, Purple Moons and Coffee Spoons, has been a story she has long wanted to write. Inspired by the loss of her father, and her mother’s dementia, it confronts grief with a celebration of life and the precious memories of loved ones that will never die.

By Julie Hodgson

When we were children we all think that our parents are going to be there forever. That they are immortal; a permanent tone set in our young eyes.

Time, however, has a way of marching forward without our permission, and of taking away those things we hold most dear.

It was with that thought in mind that I wrote my new novella, Purple Moons and Coffee Spoons. I’ve penned more than 25 books so far and out of all of them this had been the story that I had wanted to write for so long, but I had always found there were projects on the go that prevented me from doing so.

Then lockdown happened and, suddenly, I found myself with the time I’d been seeking. I believe this space was essential as, again of all my books, this was the first to truly make me cry when I reached the end. 

I remember that when I was seven I sat in assembly singing a hymn, tears streaming down my eyes, at the thought of my parents—my dad, especially, for some reason—dying someday. It was such a strange and unwelcome though in such a young mind. I don't know what brought that on, and I certainly didn't lose my father until he was 60, by which point I was in my 30s, so it was definitely not any kind of foreboding premonition or anything like that.

But time catches up with us all. Fast forward to 1993 and I was living in Sweden when I got a call from my mum, telling me that Dad, who had been bravely battling lung cancer, only had three weeks to live.

I got on the next flight back to the UK. Sat high in the sky, looking at the heavens, clear skies, and far-off sun, my mind was screaming. I had no idea what I was to do, or how I would cope.

I went directly to the hospital In Louth, Lincolnshire, but as punctual as I could be I was 10 minutes too late. He had passed away without me being there, three weeks earlier than predicted. Just 10 minutes, but now separated forever. This was a heavy blow.

I had written a poem for him, and placed it beside his grave. I often think, when emotions are running high, you write your best work. But writing Purple Moons and Coffee Spoons was a different project; coloured not only by grief for the departed but for those who remain, yet only in name.

In recent years my mum, now 85, has been declining with dementia. It’s now so bad that she no longer knows who I am. This is such a strange experience. How can you look at someone whom you have known your whole life and understand that they are just ‘not there’ any more. It’s the cruellest of diseases.

It is, however, something you just have to accept and get on with. Dying is an everyday occurrence, and dementia is entwined in many of our families’ medical history, unfortunately.

Bestselling author Julie Hodgson says her new novella, Purple Moons and Coffee Spoons, has been a cathartic experience in dealing with the grief of losing a parent.

Stories shouldn't be sad, but sometimes they must send that message that we do not really want to hear. So, on the 18th anniversary of my dad's passing, I decided to touch upon the subject of losing a parent and also having a parent’s mind ‘just disappear’, leaving them without thought or control.

Purple Moons and Coffee Spoons is a poignant story, for sure, but one with a clear message of hope.

It is focused on a young female protagonist, Fran, whose father dies from Alzheimer’s. She has brought his ashes back to his hometown of Banff, Aberdeenshire, as per his dying wish. 

Her father was a no-nonsense man and told her to, "put my ashes in a Quality Street tin and take me home to Banff".  Numb with grief, she is unable to find peace and barely manages to cope.

However, a brief visit to a small cafe with an outlandish name, ‘Purple Moons and Coffee Spoons’, might be the game-changer for her. It’s a cosy café, but one very different from all the rest. Mrs Friendly, the exuberant hostess, and the entire Friendly clan, welcome her not only with open arms but also with enthusiastic chanting and dancing. Stranger still, when Fran dips into the books adorning the shelves of the café she finds that this causes the deceased authors to re-emerge and ask her favours! She quickly realises that these ghostly goings on hold secrets that transcend the realms of logic and science.

Fran struggles with her father’s mortality and going back to Banff, a place I know well from my own time living there. The town itself evokes strong memories of Banff Bridge and the long-forgotten stories her father related to her when she was little. Tales of the upside-down children who lived under the bridge; a story she had heard often from her father.  Recalling these memories of her childhood is a comfort and gives her some kind of solace but the cafe itself gives her healing she never thought possible.

Settling down in a snug café with a book in hand, surrounded by the aroma of coffee and delectable confectionary, is any booklover's dream. Add to that the bonus conversations with age-old authors, not least William Shakespeare, and I am sure you will want to share Fran's experiences.

With each of her quests, a small part of Fran's insurmountable wall of grief crumbles, letting the light in and making her into a new person. Moreover, she empathises with other bereaved souls and helps bring them back to the land of the living.

Fran’s grief mirrored my own when my father died, and writing about it has been a truly cathartic experience.

While I wrote it as a work of young adult fiction, the themes it covers and the celebration of life I wanted to express make it relatable to people of all ages.

I hope that a visit to the singular Purple Moons and Coffee Spoons café helps others who are hurting from the loss of a loved one, just like it has certainly helped me.

Purple Moons and Coffee Spoons by Julie Hodgson is out now, published through Chave AB and available in paperback and eBook formats, priced £6.92 and £0.77 respectively. It is available on Amazon and via Books2read.com.

Visit www.juliehodgson.com

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