Novel explores Alzheimer’s, friendship and adventure
April 1, 2014
By Jenn Watt
If she had known in high school that creative writing could be a career, Janet Hepburn would have taken a much different path. But in the end, the mother of two from Port Dover, Ont., ended up connecting with her passion anyway – it just look a little longer to get there. “Later in life I started thinking ‘this is kind of fun,’” says Hepburn, 57, whose debut novel Flee, Fly, Flown, about two women who leave their Ottawa nursing home to embark on a cross-Canada trip, was published last year. “It never occurred to me when I was going through high school and thinking of the future that you could [be a writer] … that it was a career,” she says.
About 20 years ago, Hepburn started thinking about returning to poetry. She was an admin assistant for the local school board and enjoyed her work, but wanted to try writing again.
Five years ago, thinking turned into action and she took a leave from work. Then she left her job entirely.
The leap paid off, first with published poetry and then with her first novel, which was nominated for the 2014 Evergreen Award by the Ontario Library Association.
On April 9, Hepburn will be the guest speaker at the Friends of the Haliburton County Public Library’s Lunch and Learn in Haliburton.
Online reviews of the book are glowing, with many readers making a personal connection to the content, which follows Alzheimer’s patients Lillian and Audrey, who leave Tranquil Meadows Nursing Home to take a vacation out West.
The inspiration came from Hepburn’s mother, Anna, who lived with the disease for more than a decade before she died in 2011.
In her last years, Anna lived in a nursing home where her daughter visited her most days.
“With that I got a good insight into how she and other people with Alzheimer’s reacted to things,” Hepburn explains.
Hepburn says her mother would often tell her about her productive day, detailing activities that had never happened.
“I was impressed with my mom. She was very positive.”
One day, Hepburn was driving her car, listening to the radio and an image came to her of two women wearing yellow nightgowns. “They jumped off this bridge and their nightgowns were billowing,” she says.
It was the spark of the idea that became Flee, Fly, Flown – though that image never appears in the book.
In fact, Hepburn wasn’t sure where the novel would take her, allowing Lillian and Audrey to direct the narrative.
“It’s a character-driven novel,” she says. “I let them take me there.”
Perhaps because of the deeply personal subject matter, readers have embraced the book and championed it throughout the province.
The author says she gets a steady stream of emails from people saying the story helped them get through their emotions around aging and Alzheimer’s disease.
“People have made a really personal connection to it,” she says.
One reviewer on the online reading community GoodReads.com, “Jeff Q,” sums up the book this way: “What’s the opposite of pretentious? Humble? Sincere? Honest? Flee, Fly, Flown is certainly the latter. It’s also a funny (sometimes hilarious) look at aging, adventure and friendship set against the backdrop of mental illness.”
Hepburn deflects praise giving others their due in the creation of the book.
Instructors, writing circles and editors were part of the process, she says.
And while the novel is all hers, Hepburn says without the social interaction, her life as a writer would be a lonely one.
“It’s a very solitary thing, writing. So it’s hard to have a true reflection of your work. You’re always asking yourself: is this any good?”
Although Hepburn has travelled extensively – going to such places as India and Africa – she has lived in the small town she was born in her whole life.
She and her family used to visit Chateau Woodland on Lake Kashagawigamog many years ago and is happy to be returning for the Lunch and Learn.
She is impressed with the work of Haliburton’s library system and of the Friends of the Library organization that brings authors to town and encourages reading.
“For a rural area, it’s so important to have that whole world of books out there,” she says.
Janet Hepburn will be presenting on her book on Wednesday, April 9 at the Community Room (13523 Highway 118) in Haliburton.
Tickets are $20 a person and include a buffet lunch at noon with the presentation beginning at 1 p.m. Reserve your ticket before April 7 by calling Brenda at 705-457-2695
or email firstname.lastname@example.org.