Novel way to cope with ME
Aug 4 2007
Her battle with a debilitating condition didn’t stop Kerri Simpson writing a novel. KATHERINE WEIR talks to the recently published author
THEY say someone’s first novel is always somewhat autobiographical, and for Kerri Simpson this certainly rings true.
For the past 20 years, Kerri, 32, pictured, has battled with ME, also known a chronic fatigue syndrome, which at times left her bed-bound and unable to work.
She was able to draw on her experiences to write her first book, Karma, a tale about a girl who has recovered from the condition and is trying to piece together her life.
“I was very lucky to be diagnosed at such a young age,” says Kerri.
“ I was 12 years old when my open-minded doctor saw that my symptoms could be ME.
“At this time it wasn’t well -known and was generally called yuppie flu. I was off school for six months, going back and forth to the doctors.
“I just remember thinking that I didn’t have the energy to do things other children did at my age.
“I also had every illness going. I couldn’t do any sports and I felt very different and isolated.
“I had a few good friends but it was still hard to go back to school after all my time off. I did well in my exams but I felt that I could have done a lot better had it not been for my illness.
“My book involves ME, as the lead character has recently recovered from.”
Kerri, who lives in Crawcrook, started writing the book in 2000 but after one chapter she left it to one side and forgot about it until her mum saw a competition advertised in the Chronicle run by publisher Bookforce for undiscovered authors in 2005.
She decided to give it a go and on the day of the deadline she popped it in the post and was amazed later to find she had won the North East regional round.
The former trainee technician decided to create herself a pen name and Holly A Harvey was her final decision.
Her character Paige is in her late 20s. After recovering from ME it takes her a long time to realise she is a doormat for the people around her.
“Although the task seemed daunting, I wanted to prove I was still worth something. I wanted to show people that I could be someone by taking on this challenge,” explains Kerri.
According to experts there is not much that modern medicine can do to help people suffering from ME, hence many sufferers have turned to alternative treatments for relief.
Kerri says: “I’ve tried a lot of treatments. I suppose I’ll always be looking for an answer.
“I find anything that relaxes me very useful and although I’m sceptical of a few treatments, massage relieves my muscular pain and I have taken a course of acupuncture, which had great results.
“At the moment my illness is up and down. Every day is different from the last.
“I consider myself very lucky as I get out of the house now and again. At times in my illness I’ve been housebound and even bed-bound.”
The writer did know about ME before she fell ill. Her dad, Christopher, has it too. However, their symptoms do not match. Every case is different, making it very hard to find a general treatment for sufferers.
Kerri says: “I don’t know how my mum coped. She worked full-time in a hospital caring for people, and then when she came home she cared for my dad and me. I think it’s hard for any family and my dad and I couldn’t have coped without her.”
It is still not known whether there is a hereditary factor to ME.
Kerri believes not enough research has been done to answer the many questions of sufferers and their families and she thinks it may be a long time before links establish themselves.
Kerri highlights the struggle of people who have the illness to be taken seriously and to get the attention and support they need. She has received a lot of information and support from the ME Association.
“There’s just so much confusion out there. Not even the doctors can agree on how ME can be treated, or even if it exists.
“One doctor told me to have a chocolate milkshake and that I would feel better after that.
“Another told me he didn’t believe that ME existed and that I couldn’t spend my whole life on benefits.
“If only those people could spend a day walking in my shoes.”
Kerri has relied on her family for support and understanding, including her husband Gordon, 37, to whom she has been married to for 11 years.
For most of their relationship, Gordon, who works for the Environment Agency, has had to be the breadwinner as Kerri has been unable to hold down a job because of her condition.
“My family have been amazing and my husband Gordon is a great support,” she says. “The preparations for our wedding preparation were exhausting and we couldn’t have a honeymoon because I wasn’t up to it.
“However, the wedding took place, in Blaydon, and even though I was so tired afterward, it was worth it. It was a wonderful day.”
It’s five years since Kerry attempted to cope with a regular job, and she is now concentrating on her writing. She said: “At the moment I'm at home working on a few more ideas for my next book and welcoming the next challenge that comes my way. It was a huge relief when I finished the book with three minutes to spare to the publisher’s deadline, and I’m so proud of the finished piece.
“My dream is to see somebody sitting on a bus reading my book and laughing out loud. That would really make me smile.”
For more on Kerri’s work log on to www.hollyaharvey.co.uk