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How health crisis led to novel idea

PUBLISHED: 13:55 22 November 2012

Sally MacQuarrie

Sally MacQuarrie

Archant

Discovering that she had a devastating medical condition spurred on woman into writing her first book.

When Sally MacQuarrie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), she had no idea how the rest of her life would pan out.

Having worked as an accountant for a local council for years, the 54-year-old couldn’t imagine how the incurable neurological disease, which attacks the central nervous system and immobilises many of its victims, would affect her.

While her condition was manageable at first, two years ago she had to take early retirement. “Since I retired it has got worse,” she says. “I now use a walking aid and have a mobility scooter when I go on holiday.

“One of my main problems is balance. I often walk around looking like I’m drunk, even though I don’t even like alcohol in the slightest,” she laughs.

So, facing the end of her working life, Sally came up with the idea of writing fiction, and now, a year on, her debut novel, Camus Calling, has been published.

“I wrote it initially to keep myself busy, then I thought of publishing it. I decided to, even if it meant I was the only one with a copy on my bookshelf,” she says.

Released with the help of a self-publishing company, her book is now available online and will soon be sold in a London branch of Waterstone’s for 10 weeks.

The story is about a couple nearing retirement who decide to take up the position of wardens at a remote caravan site in Scotland.

They witness the amusing goings-on, dramas and delights of their guests while learning a new way of life in the serene beauty of the Highlands.

Sally has taken the pen name Jessie after her husband Garry’s great-grandmother, who always spoke of her beloved island of Ulva, off the Hebridean island of Mull. It was she who inspired Sally’s first trip up there.

After that, Sally and Garry would spend every holiday trekking the mountains, but those days are now numbered.

“It is exasperating,” she explains. “Prior to having MS, my passion was mountain walking and I would be out for hours walking. I know I can’t do that anymore. I can only go for a certain amount of time.”

Nonetheless, Sally says she is “lucky” to have been diagnosed at her age and not, as is most common, in her thirties, because her children had already left home.

Her acceptance of her condition has been helped by the Gravesend branch of the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“It is quite shocking to be told you have MS. When I first got diagnosed, I decided to go up there to a session. Garry thought it might not be a good idea, that it might be depressing, but it immediately made me feel not alone. Some were better off than me, some worse off. But I didn’t feel in any way depressed about it,” she recalls. “It has been quite a lifeline.”

She has now joined the group’s committee and hopes to pass on to others the same advice that was given to her.

Life is very different now, she says, and having received praise for her book, she wants to write a sequel.

“I never imagined myself as a writer. I just thought it would be for my family but since then I have had more interest. So maybe this is the next chapter for me.”

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