The final Ariana Franklin novel, 'Winter Siege'
Samantha Norman describes her journey to complete her mother's final Ariana Franklin novel.
It wasn't a question of 'wanting' to finish my mother's book; more a case of needing to. All mum's books were precious to her but this one was especially so.
She started writing 'Winter Siege' a few months before being rushed to hospital with cerebral vasculitis, a rare autoimmune disease which caused her brain to swell and put her in to a coma for three weeks. Nobody, least of all the doctors, expected her to survive and we, her family, were warned that even if she did, she would be intellectually impaired. No one, however, had reckoned on Mum's indomitable spirit and eventually, though in her own time, she emerged from it as sharp as ever and desperate to get back to writing.
The illness had weakened her physically, of course, but nevertheless she would drag herself out of bed to her desk at all hours to write as much as she could. And then one night when she was about half way through the first draft her remarkable heart, exhausted by too much
living, loving and, inevitably, the effects of the vasculitis gave up and
she died in her sleep.
She was one of the most brilliant people I have ever met but also the most awful nag, even unto death. And ever since I can remember she had nursed a conviction, always made vocal, Mum's opinions usually were that I was to be a novelist.
'You should write, she would tell me. That's what you ought to be doing.' And I would pretend not to listen and then, just like that, she wasn't there any more, only her memory, a half-finished novel and a voice echoing in my head.
So I started writing, a process which turned out to be so much more cathartic than conventional grieving. For the best part of a year I sat at my desk, or wandered around the back stacks of the London Library, her favourite place inhabiting my mother's world. It wasn't always easy. For a start 'Winter Siege' was set in the 12th Century which meant an enormous amount of research; on top of which she hadn't left any notes or plan, certainly none that I could find which meant there were times when I found myself floundering in the dark. But then there were other moments when, as if from nowhere, I'd get a sudden flash of inspiration and know with extraordinary clarity exactly the direction the novel should take.
Mum didn't approve of whimsy and yet there were times when secretly I wonder if the unfinished novel was somehow her last gift to me; the spur to start writing and the
opportunity for me to do one final thing for her.
Winter Siege by Ariana Franklin & Samantha Norman is out now and published by Bantam Press.