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Somebody I used to know by Wendy Mitchell

Somebody I used to know by Wendy Mitchell

Dementia – eleven books to help us cope (and literary events from 20 Aug 2019)

A search in the mind for a word that you used to know and you start to worry. Not about the word. About getting dementia. Do you have a friend or a loved one with Alzheimer’s? Do you find it difficult? Angela J. Phillip reports on eleven books that might help us to cope.

My friend has Alzheimer’s and she lives alone. She used to have plenty of friends but they are dropping away because it’s difficult nowadays to talk to her. Whenever I ring off (she lives far away) after 30 minutes or an hour, my friend thinks that I’ve talked to her for only a minute and feels hurt that I’m going so soon. She is lonely and getting lonelier although she tries not to complain, so I wonder how I can help. Or if I can help. And how I can cope with her now. Here are some books (in no particular order) that might be useful if you have a friend or a loved one like mine.

1.  ‘Somebody I used to know’ (2019) by Wendy Mitchell
Somebody I used to know is a memoir, an account from the inside of what Wendy Mitchell feels like to find out that, at the age of 58, she has Alzheimer’s. And then she writes about how she starts to live a different kind of life where the self that she used to be gradually disappears. She feels that the ‘self’ she had before is not the ‘self’ that she is now and addresses her former self as ‘you’ (all those things ‘you’ used to do before, how fast ‘you’ used to be).

Wendy was a runner, a climber, a driver, a competent person at work. Now no longer. She has to give up those things because they are no longer possible. What comes across as well as the sadness and the loneliness that she tries to keep hidden (like my friend) is the courage, the fierce independence, the attempt at humour (like my friend) and these things remain. She reminds us that people with dementia have good days and bad days, but always, always, always, there is a person in there. A person who needs to be acknowledged, respected and loved.


Elizabeth is missing by Emma Healey2. Elizabeth is missing’ (2015) by Emma Healey
Elizabeth is missing is both a detective novel and a story about living with dementia. Maud is often confused but of one thing she is certain: her friend Elizabeth is missing. Maud is determined to ignore everyone who tells her to stop going on about it and eventually, she does get to the bottom of the mystery. Winner of the Costa First Novel Award 2014 and longlisted for the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction in 2015.


We are not ourselves by Matthew Thomas3. ‘We are not ourselves’ (2015) by Matthew Thomas
Set in New York, We are not ourselves tells the story of Eileen who has Alzheimer’s. As the dementia progresses, it’s not so much about ‘what is left’ as about ‘what emerges’. Eileen is a woman who has always worked hard, looked after her family, done her duty. Much of her self has been repressed, but as the disease catches hold what emerges more than anything is her capacity for love, and it is this that has always been (and still is) her driving force.


Still Alice4. ‘Still Alice (2007) by Lisa Genova
Still Alice is both a novel (and a major Academy award-winning film starring Julianne Moore and Kristen Steward) about early-onset Alzheimers. Alice Howland is a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard, an expert in linguistics who, at 50, starts being forgetful and discovers she has Alzheimer’s. It is an account of the struggle of both Alice and her family to hold on to who she was and to accept who she is now.


Dancing with dementia5. ‘Dancing with dementia’ (2005) by Christine Bryden
Dancing with dementia is just one of Christine Bryden’s books about living positively with Alzheimer’s. She is an Australian who was diagnosed in 1995 at the age of 46. Her memoirs are not only insightful but also inspirational and contain extremely useful advice on how to relate to people with dementia. She does not want to be seen as a victim. She stresses that she, and all other people with dementia, are people who need to be respected. Please see for information about her other books.


Keeping Mum6. ‘Keeping Mum: caring for someone with dementia’ (2011) by Marianne Talbot
Keeping Mum: caring for someone with dementia is a carer’s account of looking after her mother at home. Marianne Talbot offers not only lots of practical tips on how to care for someone with dementia but also tips on how to stay sane. This was written originally as a series for Saga magazine online. Readers have commented overwhelmingly on how helpful they found the practical advice in this account.


Grandpa's great escape7. ‘Grandpa’s great escape’ (2017) by David Walliams
Grandpa’s great escape is a story written for children (7 – 12 year-olds) about how a young boy helps his grandpa escape from a retirement home.  His grandpa was a World War 2 flying ace and although he now goes to the supermarket in his slippers and forgets people’s names, the hero in him is still there. The story has been made into a tv movie (2018) starring Tom Courtenay, the flying ace and Jennifer Saunders as the wicked matron.


what dementia teaches us about love8. ‘What dementia teaches us about love’ (2019) by Nicci Gerrard
What dementia teaches us about love is an account of Nicci Gerrard’s researches into what is known about dementia and how people with dementia can be supported. It was written after watching her father suffer from it for ten years before he died. She thinks it is the thing that we fear most, a state where our memories and with them our very selves, gradually disappear. She explores the healing power of art whether it be music, painting, poetry, dance or any other form and how much this can help to combat the terrible loneliness that dementia brings.


Turn of mind9. Turn of Mind (2012) by Alice La Plante
Turn of Mind is a detective story about Jennifer White, who can’t remember whether she murdered her best friend. This is interesting not only in the way it is the same as an ‘ordinary’ detective novel where you read on to see what happened, but in the exploration of how a person is changing, how they no longer quite know themselves. Could she have done it?


dementia from the inside10. ‘Dementia from the inside: a doctor’s personal journey of hope’ (2018) by Dr Jennifer Bute
Dementia from the inside is a highly qualified senior doctor’s account of the diagnosis of her own dementia and subsequent journey. The aim of the book is to offer practical advice both to those with the condition as well as those who are going along with loved ones on the journey. She emphasises that the person with dementia is always still there inside, even when they are difficult to reach. Jennifer Bute also maintains that spirituality rises as cognition becomes more limited.


Memory activity book11. ‘The Memory Activity book: practical projects to help with memory loss and dementia’ (2018) by Helen Lambert
Finally, there is the The Memory Activity bookThis book, with a foreword from Angela Rippon, who is Ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society, is full of activities that are designed to slow or delay dementia. Helen Lambert explains how engaging in the various activities can benefit parts of the brain.


sources of local information:
East Sussex County Council – dementia support

Housing Care – Hastings/ dementia
Find a group – Dementia support/ East Sussex
East Sussex Community Information Service – dementia support

recommended bookshops – all independents including:
The Bookkeeper Bookshop 1a Kings Rd, St Leonards (Best Bookshops feature)
Bookbuster 39 Queens Rd, Hastings (Best Bookshops feature)
Printed Matter Bookshop 185 Queens Rd, Hastings TN34 1RG (feature coming soon)

Soul Food

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

New books

Amos, Steve and Bronwen Griffiths
Silverhill Press are delighted to announce the publication of two new works of prose, Bronwen Griffiths‘s Listen With Mother, and Steve Amos‘s Two Sides of an Indie Dad. More information and ordering on our website.
You can also buy these from The Bookkeeper Bookshop 1a Kings Rd, St Leonards

Booth, Francis
Code 17
  (March 2019) – a thriller, published by Amazon
Code 17.2  (July 2019) – a thriller, published by Amazon

Donohue, Pete
Poetry is Feathers (July, 2019) – a collection of poetryorder locally or from

Robinson, John D.
Singing Arias (July 2019) – a collection of poetry, order locally or from Analog Press.


Hastings Literary Festival 30 August – 1 September 2019

Lucy Cooke

Lucy Cooke

Sun 1 September 10.00 am St Mary in the Castle The Unexpected Truth about Animals a talk given by tv presenter and zoologist, Lucy Cooke. The talk, based on Lucy’s book of the same name, will be lifting the lid on some familiar animals which – it turns out – we don’t really know at all. The show is suitable for children aged 12 and above.

Tickets for The Unexpected Truth About Animals are available through Hastings LitFest website or from St Mary in the Castle.

Sarfraz Manzoor

Sarfraz Manzoor

Sat 31 August 19.00 – 22.00 at Kino Teatr, St Leonards Blinded by the Light a film about a teenager of Pakistani descent growing up in the 80s and finding comfort in Springsteen’s music. It is based on the autobiographical book by Sarfraz Manzoor who will be there to talk about it.

Tickets for Blinded by the Light with Sarfraz Manzoor are available from Kino Teatr or by clicking the link on the Hastings LitFest site.

See the recent Guardian article Bruce Springsteen changed my life and so did my best friend Amolak

For the full programme for the Hastings Literary Festival, please see: Hastings Litfest Programme

Bookbuster 39 Queens Rd, Hastings
Thurs 19 September 6 – 9 pm £2 entry Sheer Poetry – an open mic poetry night
Go to Bookbuster’s Facebook page and see what happened at the last Open Mic. There are little clips of poetry readings.

Printed Matter Bookshop 185 Queens Rd, Hastings TN34 1RG
Mon, 2nd Sept. PM Book Club discussing Why I’m No longer Talking To White People About Race. 6pm at the shop.

The Bookkeeper Bookshop 1a Kings Rd, St Leonards
Come and look at our Facebook page to see what’s happening.

The Literary Shed Writing Circle run by A. Vasudevan
Two-hour weekly writing sessions in safe, creative spaces in Hastings and St Leonards
Thurs 22 Aug, 10–12 am Stooge Coffee, Hi-Store, 4 Trinity, Hastings
On the second Thursday of each month, there is a writing critique group in which members share work.
For further information, please email:, subject: WRITE-INS.

Writing Courses from CWP with New Writing South
2 year Creative Writing Course
Advanced Writing Course
Autobiography and Life Writing Course
for details on all courses, please see  Creative Writing Programme in collaboration with New Writing South

See review Word of Mouth – marvellous creative writing courses from CWP and New Writing South

Taster Sessions on Sat 7 September at Sussex Coast College (next to the station)
Autobiography and Life Writing Programme (2-year) 10.30 am – 12.45 £10
Creative Writing Course (2-year taught in Hastings in 2019) and The Advanced Writing Workshops 1.30 pm – 3.45 £10
For further information on the two-year programmes and courses go to

Well, folks, that’s it for this week. For an update on my writing, please see Collapsed near the finish line of the 4th draft of The Sauly Bird

Thanks for reading.

Angela J. Phillip

Book covers taken from
Images of Lucy Cooke and Sarfraz Manzoor supplied by Hastings Litfest

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Posted 09:00 Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019 In: Hastings Bookchat

Also in: Hastings Bookchat

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