If you knew the inspiration you would recognise the grand staircase, the library, the residents’ lounge and the dining room. You’d know about the magnificent grounds, the little arboretum and even the small summer-house from which several of my ladies eyed-up the new gardener. I must add, however, that the staff and managers of Sundown House came entirely from my own imagination!
We were sitting in Mum’s room one winter’s afternoon as the sun was lowering and the view was red, when she told us some of the gossip. The ladies were real characters. You don’t stop being you when you enter a care home or residential home. As you age and physically shrink a little, you become more concentrated. The kindly Millie is now benevolent. The tetchy Lilian is now irrascible. Just because people need basic help with living, they aren’t stupid and still want self-determination.
We noticed that, because there has to be some organisation to enable a place like that to run smoothly, like set mealtimes, not whenever the resident fancies eating, it resembled a boarding school. That’s when ‘St Trinian’s with arthritis’ leapt out of my mind and onto the page. My ladies became real people to me as I wrote them. I’m not sure whether I got into their heads or they got into mine.
As you get older, you realise this is something you’ll have to deal with. Being treated like a child. Not having your voice heard. Not being allowed choices. Still, when you lose younger friends on the journey, you realise you’ll be lucky to get that far.
If you read The Sundowners, I hope you’ll enjoy the story and realise there’s always fun in life if you put it there.