Greetings from Nicholas Evans…
Maybe it’s simply something that happens as you get older, but spring in our part of the world this year seemed more intense than ever. As you become aware of your own mortality, these things seem to get more vivid. The great TV writer Dennis Potter, dying of cancer in the mid 1990s, talked about staring at an apple tree outside the window of his study where he was rushing to finish a play before his death. He said it had ‘the blossomest blossom’ he had ever seen.
Here in Devon, after one of the harshest winters in many years, with snow and ice lingering for weeks on end, May brought sunshine and clear, deep blue skies. The woods around us and along the river filled with wild flowers. They came in waves – snowdrops and primroses, then bluebells and the delicate star-shaped flowers of wild garlic. The roe deer shed their drab winter coats and started turning red for summer. The canopy of trees was a hundred shades of green.
The only sadness was the cold winter had taken its toll along the river banks. Last summer, when we paddled upstream in the canoe, we would see, at every bend of the river, the neon blue and orange flash of a kingfisher. Sometimes they would crash-dive right beside the canoe, emerging with a minnow in their beaks. There must have been at least fifteen or twenty breeding pairs. This year I have yet to see a single one.
Spring gave way to what could be called, at best, a mediocre summer. And in tune with the rain and leaden skies, the world seemed pretty gloomy too. Tsunamis, earthquakes, famine in Somalia, looming economic meltdown, wars and civil insurrection. And now, in the UK at least, the worst rioting and mayhem the country has seen in decades. Even as I write, the politicians and media pundits are speculating on what the causes were. The best anyone can say is that it’s a mixture of many factors – the breakdown of family and community values, the failure of education, the growing disparity between rich and poor, and, above all, the relentless and obsessive materialism of our culture in which all that seems to matter is having more.
With all of this gloom hanging over us, I’m almost ashamed to say that, on a personal level, it has been the most wonderful summer of my life.
Many of you probably know that, in a stupid accident three years ago, my wife and brother-in-law and I ate some poisonous mushrooms which promptly wiped out our kidneys. Since then the three of us have had to do dialysis for five hours every other day. It has been quite a journey. During these many months, seven wonderful friends have offered me a kidney (you can survive and flourish and lead a normal life with only one kidney). For various reasons, none of these worked out. Mostly it was simply because we weren’t good enough matches.
Meanwhile, my three grown-up children (and even my nine-year-old son, bless his heart) were offering me one of their kidneys. I thanked them but said I couldn’t accept such a gift. Even though the risk to the donor is tiny – indeed there are studies that show donors live longer than non-donors – the instinct to protect one’s children from even the smallest danger was too powerful. But as time went by and dialysis began to take its toll (in my case, on my hitherto healthy heart) I knew I had to do something. My daughter went and got herself tested and it turned out she was an almost perfect match. She kept on at me. It was purely selfish, she insisted; she wanted me to be around for as many years as possible, to be there for her and for her children when she has them.
To cut a long story and much agonizing short, on the fourth of July (appropriately), at the Hammersmith Hospital in London, the transplant took place, all courtesy of our marvelous National Health Service. It’s early days, but we are both doing really well. She gave me my life back. There aren’t words that can describe my gratitude. She is simply an angel.
Still more good news: both my wife and brother-in-law have have found donors and hope to have transplants soon. Fingers crossed, it could be great year for all of us.
Sadly, not enough is known about kidney donation. In the UK alone some 47,000 people suffer kidney failure each year. There are 2,500 transplants a year and only 900 of them are from live donors, usually relatives. The rest are from people who have just died and have signed up as wanting to donate their organs to help others survive.
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough registered donors. Many people, myself included, believe we should have a system where you are presumed willing to donate your organs when you die, unless you have specifically opted out. When this was introduced in Spain the number of transplants rocketed and thousands of lives have since been saved. And a growing number of people are offering a kidney to total strangers. It’s called ‘altruistic donation’. What an amazing thing to do for a fellow human being.
So please remember: you only need one kidney. Your other one could save someone’s life.
Enough kidney talk. Back to books…
My latest novel The Brave is out in paperback in the UK and doing pretty well. The US paperback will be published in November. To tie in with the paperback publication of The Brave, my UK publishers have released new editions of all my books, featuring new covers – including a new look for The Horse Whisperer.
If you’ve read and enjoyed The Horse Whisperer, you can now vote for it as one of your top 10 books for World Book Night 2012. This is a charity event, designed to promote literature and reading, in which readers give away copies of a selection of books to their friends, family and colleagues. Last year over a million books were given away, and this year the event involves a public vote to find the nation’s top 100 books, from which 25 titles will be selected to give away.
The public vote is now open until 31st August. You can vote here on World Book Night or follow the link from my website. It’s a great initiative, so do please get involved.
That’s all for now, except to say a big thank you to all of you who have emailed me your good wishes via my website. Because of the transplant, I’m a little behind in replying but I promise I will soon.
With all best wishes,
Now Available: THE BRAVE
There’s little love in eight-year-old Tom Bedford’s life. His parents are old and remote and the boarding school they’ve sent him to bristles with bullies and sadistic staff. The only comfort he gets is from his fantasy world of Cowboys and Indians. But when his sister Diane, a rising star of stage and screen, falls in love with one of his idols, the suave TV cowboy Ray Montane, Tom’s life is transformed. They move to Hollywood and all his dreams seem to have come true. Soon, however, the sinister side of Tinseltown casts its shadow and a shocking act of violence changes their lives forever.
What happened all those years ago remains a secret that corrodes Tom’s life and wrecks his marriage. Only when his estranged son, a US Marine, is charged with murder do the events resurface, forcing him to confront his demons. As he struggles to save his son’s life, he will learn the true meaning of bravery.
Powerfully written and intensely moving, The Brave traces the legacy of violence behind the myth of the American West and explores our quest for love and identity, the fallibility of heroes and the devastating effects of family secrets.
Praise for THE BRAVE
“Alternating past and present, Evans expertly juggles his twin narratives until they come shatteringly together as father and son yield to the combined weight of the secrets they hide. Combining elements of the prep school drama, the Hollywood novel, the western, and the war story, Evans (The Horse Whisperer) skillfully mixes genres to create a real crowd-pleaser.” – Publishers Weekly
“Ever the master of intense and complex relationships, Evans has crafted a time-traveling plot that admirably juggles issues of identity and fidelity to one’s self and one’s principles.” – Booklist
“The novel is a delightful mixture of heightened contrasts and juxtaposed similarities: the old and new, the father and his son, love and hate, the lines blurring to such an extent that one could be mistaken for the other […] A thoroughly gripping page-turner” – Daily Express
“His prose is always vivid and often exciting and much detail is clearly well researched” – Financial Times
“Through his storytelling skills, sound plot construction and ease with descriptive landscapes, Evans keeps a firm grip on interest until the end. Fans will not be disappointed” – Irish Independent
“The sort of emotionally cathartic read that Evan’s does best: a search for identity through the quagmire of family secrets and a redemptive ending – tissues at the ready” – Glamour (Must-read of the month)
“A novel that packs a real emotional punch” – She Magazine(Five stars)
“A moving story of a man confronting his past” – Woman & Home