Still You: A poignant new look at love and friendship

Still You, the new novel from Claire Allan
Still You, the new novel from Claire Allan

Derry Journal reporter Claire Allan will be marking the release of her eighth novel ‘Still You’ with a signing tomorrow at Eason, Foyleside when she, and fellow Derry author Brian McGilloway, help the store celebrate its 20th birthday.

The birthday weekend comes as ‘Still You’ - which was released on Ebook format earlier this month - finally hits the shops in paperback format.

For Claire, the new book marks a triumphant return to writing after she took a year out of publishing following the publication of ‘The First Time I Said Goodbye’ in 2013.

“I’m delighted to have a new book out there,” she said, “And this one has marked a very personal journey for me.”

‘Still You’ is a novel which Claire says is “ultimately about friendship and love, in all its guises” but is also deals with the emotive subject of dementia.

Claire felt compelled to write a novel examining how dementia can affect a person and their family and friends after watching her own grandmother develop the heartbreaking condition.

“My granny was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s more than a decade ago. It is an incredibly cruel disease which has not only robbed her of her memories, but has also robbed us as a family of a much loved granny, mother and friend.

“I know we all struggle with our feelings seeing her in the condition she is in now - and there is a unique grief that comes with Alzheimer’s - seeing the person you love physically still there, but no longer the person you knew.

“My daddy calls it the long goodbye - and that is very accurate.”

Through her work as a journalist, Claire has also had the opportunity to meet many people living with Dementia and their families as she covered stories for the local branch of the Alzheimer’s Society.

“Michael McIvor, who is now retired from the Alzheimer’s Society, knew the issue was one close to my heart and he knew if he phoned me and asked me to do a story about Dementia, I would never say no,” Claire said. “He used that to his advantage,” she laughed.

“But it really was an honour to meet people living with Dementia day and daily and to hear their stories. It was heartbreaking at times but their strength of character, and the strength of their carers and family members also shone through.”

‘Still You’ is the story of former teacher Aine Quigley, who lives alone in the grand sprawling house she once shared with her mother and sister. When she develops Alzheimer’s, her only nephew Jonathan employs Georgina Casey as her carer - and the pair develop a unique and life affirming friendship.

“Through their friendship, we learn about Aine’s earlier life experiences - particularly over the course of a tumultuous two years in the 1960s, when unexpected events force her life to take a turn she would never have expected.

“We learn about the sacrifices she made, the people she loved and the tough decisions she made. Central to all that is the belief that Dementia or not, she is still the person she always was.

“Sometimes when someone is diagnosed with a condition they automatically become ‘Aine with Alzheimer’s’ or the like - and not Aine who loved to garden, and play piano and did unexpected things in the name of love.”

The book moves between the modern day, and 1963 Derry - as well as the rolling hills of Tuscany - and it also tells Georgina’s story - as a mother left adrift when her husband and childhood sweetheart finds that the grass is greener outside of their marriage.

“It was a tough book to write in many ways, but it was beautiful book to write. Over the course of my last few novels, I have fallen in love with writing books set just a little in times gone by.

“There is something so beautiful about setting a scene in the best - painting pictures of Aine’s beautiful garden, her gorgeous big house which in many ways is frozen in time and of course the beautiful hills of Italy.”

Claire is delighted to be sharing the signing desk tomorrow with fellow writer Brian McGilloway. “I am a huge fan of Brian’s books - and I think he is a real inspiration to local writers. He has walked the walk!”

The signing will take place from 2.00 p.m.