A funny thing happens when you publish a book about your life.
It has an ending. And sometimes, what happens next – after the book is published – can make a lie out of that ending, however true you thought it was at the time.
The memoir I published nearly three years ago was about discovering my son is on the autistic spectrum … and then that half my family (including me) is somewhere on that spectrum. But it was also a celebration of difference. With our multigenerational divorces, shared custody arrangements and array of step-parents (and even a foster child), we were pretty far from ‘average’, whatever that is.
But I liked to think that, despite the many fractures in our family tree, rebuilding it our own way had made us stronger. I thought there was something special in that.
I thought the same about my household: my husband I had split up and gotten back together incessantly in the first two years of our relationship, before we moved in together, then got engaged, then married. We squabbled, about things as minor as how tidy a house needed to be before people came over (he liked it spotless, I thought people should take us as we were), and as important as where we should live (he wanted to move to the inner-city, I didn’t want my son to change schools, neighbourhoods, or custody arrangements). I struggled with the fractious moods that were symptoms of his ill health. He was ground down by my anxiety and workaholic tendencies.
I put all of this in my memoir.
We also had an easy rhythm to our relationship: we shared values, we joked together, we both cared passionately about my son. As a threesome, our family fit together, despite all the signs that suggested we might not.
I put this in my memoir too, and considered this one of its messages: love doesn’t always look like what you expect, and nor does family. Flaws don’t mean something doesn’t work.
But it turned out I was wrong.
My husband left us a year after my book was published, in what came as a total shock. Of course, it was about much more than my book. But he said that I had been very hard to live with while I was writing it, and then when it was published, when I spent the first few months drowning in first-time author neurosis. (Was I getting enough publicity? Would my family be upset about my book and the stories I told about them? Could the publicity make things worse?)
One author told me, in the first days after my husband left, that this – being left by your life partner – is not uncommon for women who publish their first books.
A friend reviewed my book on Goodreads soon after my separation: “Events in her life since this book was published … have coloured the way I interpret certain characters, and made the postscript seem far less rosy than it was perhaps intended to read.”