December 1, 2021

Christina Patterson | “In our family, we didn’t have marriages; only funerals

“In our family, we didn’t have weddings; only funerals.”

In 2018, writer and host Christina Patterson published The art of not collapsing, a poignant and ironically funny memoir recounting his two cancer diagnoses, depressing dates with unsuitable men, the death of his sister and a devastating dismissal. Taking interviews with people like Frieda Hughes and Benjamin Zephaniah about their own sorrows and disappointments is both an antidote to flippant self-help books and a hymn to the art of persevering, with the help of friends, books, coffee, cake, wine, parties and chips.

Four years later comes Outside the sky is blue (Tinder Press), a wonderful family memory in which Patterson reveals the true extent of what she stood up to. It reminds that of Lorna Sage Bad blood Where Let’s not go to the dogs tonight by Alexandra Fuller, but has a quiet power all its own. At first, Patterson introduces us to his Scottish Presbyterian father and Swedish Lutheran mother, who meet on a hill in Heidelberg, Germany in the 1950s, fall in love at first sight and embark on a seemingly glamorous married life, living in first in Thailand, where their first child, Caroline, arrives; then to Rome where a son, Tom, is born, then the youngest of the sisters Christina. Then the family returned to the UK, settling into suburban Surrey living in a house that had “laughs, games, toys and dolls to play with, books to read and markers for drawing and drawing. roast chicken on Sunday “. From the outside, the sky appears indeed blue. But inside, storm clouds are gathering due to Caroline’s erratic behavior. After she is diagnosed with schizophrenia and her parents struggle to cope, Caroline’s siblings begin to seek solace elsewhere: Tom in sports and Christina at a youth club where she hopes to meet newcomers. boys, but find God instead.

In the acknowledgments at the end of the book, Patterson, now in her fifties, reveals that this is a story she has wanted to tell for many years. “I knew my experience of born again Christianity, followed by a dramatic loss of faith, was relatively unusual,” Patterson tells me when we speak via Zoom. When she first considered writing about it over two decades ago, she began to suffer from immobilizing physical pain, diagnosed at the time as lupus. She started the story, but failed to make it work. “So I parked it and got incredibly busy at work.” After a first job at Faber & Faber, Patterson worked at the Southbank Center, where she programmed and presented literary events with such figures as Gore Vidal, Susan Sontag and Umberto Eco. Subsequently, she became director of the Poetry Society, then left to join The Independent, first as an associate literary editor, then as one of its main interviewers and columnists. In 2013, there was a dramatic dismissal, shortly after she was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for a series of articles on the NHS. This coup led directly to the writing of The art of not collapsing. “By then, my immense grief over the loss of my job and my identity had become the most pressing issue,” she tells me.

When her sister Caroline died in her early forties, Patterson wrote that she felt “the world had turned around and we were in a new landscape covered in dust and rocks.” Soon after, her father died of cancer and later she lost her mother. Then, during the pandemic, Patterson’s brother Tom – the last of his immediate family still alive – also died suddenly. Struck down, Patterson embarked on the arduous task of cleaning his house, sifting through the boxes of letters, papers, photo albums and other possessions that made up his family’s archives. This process gave an urgent impetus to the telling of the story that has become Outside the sky is bluee. “Death seemed very imminent. I had cancer twice and lost my brother at 57 and my sister at 41. Then a pandemic struck. So I thought, ‘I just have to write this story before I die’.

All this does Outside the sky is blue sound like an extraordinary mourning memory. But that’s not how it reads. “Although I’m the last one left, I see the four deaths in the book as an unfortunate red herring in a terrible way,” Patterson confirms. “The heart of the book is the effect of mental illness on a family.” It’s also a powerful story about the knocks that life deals us with and how we deal with the distress they cause. “I carried mine in my body, which wasn’t great in all kinds of ways. But it’s there in all of us. Patterson was influenced by an interview she did a few years ago with famous psychoanalyst Darian Leader. “He spoke of ‘enigmatic cycles of disease’; how illness can reflect and reverberate in a family, especially when it comes to autoimmune diseases. Hearing this was amazing because it is the closest connection I could make between Caroline’s schizophrenia and my own strange manifestations of physical pain. In the book, she writes, “My body has often said the things that I feel I can’t say. “

Outside the sky is blue it is also a story of staying sane and moving on, of carving your own path that does not conform to parental expectations, and of how love within a family can endure even the most severe hardships. more severe. And, being a book by Christina Patterson, it’s also a celebration of the little pleasures in life, which many of us took less for granted during the pandemic. Patterson’s love for coffee and cakes, for example, is inherited from his Swedish mother.

In fgeneral, Outside the sky is blue seems to say that it’s partly these little things – as opposed to God, self-help books, Instagram gurus, and TEDx chats – that get us through. Patterson agrees. “Everyone has to figure out how to handle things in their own way, and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. My experience is that repeatedly hitting on your misery, unfortunately, does not solve it. Having a nice chat with friends over a bottle of wine and some Kettle Chips is much more likely to cheer me up than talking about my depression.

“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, and while this is not true for everyone, Patterson and I use the word “courage” to describe the resilience that his parents made. proof throughout their lives, and which she now realizes she has inherited. Outside the sky is blue is his homage to “Soft, Kind, Witty, Slightly Quirky and Always Persistent Pattersons”. And towards the end of the book, the clouds start to dissipate.

Patterson is a gifted writer, who uses the power of words beautifully to express how we might endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that at some point in our lives are aimed at all of us. She jokes that during her time at the Southbank Center and the Poetry Society, then as a literary journalist and interviewer, there was always a part of her that “exploded with envy, bitterness and resentment that ‘others were writing when I couldn’t. “Now she too uses her own writing in the belief that” art is always about showing every human being that he or she is not alone. “

Book extract

I loved my parents but they were wrong. They were wrong to pretend it was easy: that loving lark, that family lark, that combination of all of that with a brilliant career lark. I thought maybe that was the right thing to do to feel like an adult. Maybe that’s why I still don’t feel like an adult now.

I’m sorry, mom. I’ve failed. I’m sorry, dad. I did not succeed. Neither of us did, but I think you both thought I was the one who should have. I promise you, I can swear on a Bible if you want, it wasn’t because I didn’t try.

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