“I think one of the things it’s done for me, when you lose someone like that it’s like how do you keep their memory and for me, the book keeps her memory alive.”
Elaine Sturgess lost her wife, Maria six years ago to lung cancer. Writing a book helped her deal with accepting her loss and gave her a way to feel connected to her departed spouse. The book Gin & It which is being launched this Thursday is wickedly humorous and that is exactly how she describes Maria.
From sitting down with her for half an hour the other day in the bright sunshine at Old Steine it was evident that she lives life to the full and shines from the inside out despite her personal battles.
To get where she is today, Elaine struggled through a journey of understanding and admits that there were a few extremely significant points that helped her value the meaning of life.
The first of which she says was about 4 months after her wife died, when a Macmillan nurse visited her one afternoon. She stayed for 5 hours allowing her to get out a lot of anger and emotion. Before this Elaine felt that she had contained her feelings, crying all day and living minute to minute.
After her visit Elaine banged her head on a cupboard in the kitchen. She laid on the stone kitchen floor and told me it felt like she was outside of her body; “I was literally lying there and one half of my head was telling me to beat my head on the floor and one half was telling me don’t do it.” Elaine managed to get up after what was hours but felt like moments.
As for huge turning points, she had another 9 months later when watching a movie. ‘Eleanor Undone’ a lesbian film, made by Marina and Nicole in LA massively impacted her. She describes watching the movie and feeling like she was watching her and Maria’s story which prompted her to write a review and get in touch with the women who made it.
Sitting doodling on a piece of paper one day, Elaine wrote the names of the women who made the film, Marina and Nicole, and Maria’s name and her own on a piece of paper and crossed out the common letters. The letters that were left spelt ‘ocean’. Elaine decided in that moment to cross the ocean and meet the film makers. What followed was a bizarre couple of years travelling back and forth, meeting lots of interesting people but to a large extent distracting herself from her grief.
When Elaine returned to the UK she let go of everything she had with Maria in order to move on, she sold the house, the furniture, the business they ran. A friend said Brighton would be great for her and so she moved here.
Gin And It has been in the works for 10 years, it is based on a time when Elaine and Maria lived in a village in the middle of the countryside, after Maria died it was hard to write. But coming back to it after all those years gave her an opportunity to put a lot of her wife’s personality into the book.
The semi-autobiographical love story confronts the human action of judgement. As a gay couple moving to a small conservative village, Elaine and Maria were anxious about the reaction they would receive from the locals. However, it turned out that they were quite popular. The book notes the bizarre happenings in the village such as the pride they took in the village prostitutes and the swingers club they were recruited to.
Elaine wanted the book to say “if you’re a swinger, be a swinger, if you’re not hurting anybody then why is it a problem?”
It addresses the amount of unhappiness that comes from not being who you are because you feel confined. When Elaine and Maria met, Maria was married to a man, she knew she wanted to be with a woman but hadn’t been strong enough to do it until she met and fell in love with Elaine. After they decided to be together they had the happiest 17 years anyone could have hoped for.
To the day Maria died she was smiling and laughing. They got married just 3 weeks before her passing and despite being extremely unwell Elaine showed me how cheerful Maria was in pictures. Described as a person everyone loved, Maria was a happy soul, innately spiritual and didn’t judge others… she was the most authentic person Elaine knew.
Her death was shocking as she was diagnosed just 3 months before she passed with stage four terminal lung cancer. When Elaine watched the light go out in Maria’s eyes she recognized that the only thing she took with her was love.
Elaine admits that if she thinks back to herself 6 years ago and if someone told her that the only thing that matters is love and happiness she would have replied something along the lines of “yeah but I’ve got a job to do, but I still want a TV and I still want a this and that.”
Ironically she says I have learnt more from Maria in the last few years since she has been gone than she did when she was alive. She wishes she listened to her wife more but has taken on her lust for life now and it has completely changed who she is.
The book launch represents this changed perspective, at the Brighton Music hall from 6pm to 11pm on the 31st of August as there will be a bunch of vibrant characters making cocktails, reading excerpts and doing live performances. Mary Jane Wells will be there, an actress who starred in Elaine’s life altering movie ‘Eleanor Undone’ and Anna Garcia Cuartero will be another, Elaine’s new partner.
Although anyone can attend the launch, if you buy tickets you will have access to all the entertainment and cocktails, the proceeds go to cancer care and you’ll receive a free copy of Elaine’s new and shorter novel ‘Fallen Angel’. But if that doesn’t sway you Brighton flash mob will be there also!
If you’d like to attend the launch click here, and if you can’t attend but would like to read Gin And It, the book will be available on Amazon.