New novelist explores a late-blooming lesbian’s journey on the road to sobriety
ALCOHOL addiction, domestic violence and coming out as a lesbian all feature in Sara Stewart’s debut novel which she wrote while undergoing chemotherapy.
The Newcastle University graduate (pictured above) talks about her dark comedy Whilst I Was Out, drinking dreams and Worzel Gummidge.
You run your own successful PR and Marketing business so why did you decide to write a book?
I was having treatment for breast cancer, off work and had a lot of time on my hands. I wanted to write about my experiences but from a characters point of view. I’ve been sober now for 10 years but I’ve seen so many people with alcohol problems that I wanted to write about it. When you drink you behave badly – I think it’s important to be honest about the things you get up to but also show it is possible to change – if I can do it anyone can.
Whilst I Was Out by Sara Stewart
The recently released dark comedy tell the story of Alice, a much-abused mother of three who begins to suspect what’s wrong with her marriage – her husband.
Already a few fries short of a Happy Meal and more interested in cycling than Alice, he goes even more bonkers when she wants out. Alice deals with it the only way she knows how – by reaching for the bottle.
When she falls head over heels for someone new, and someone who happens to be a woman, Alice dreams of a happy home for her children only to realise she’s swapped a narcissist for a sociopath.
But can Alice trust her own judgment now her drinking has become a real problem?
Weaving comedy into romance, author Sara Stewart lets us laugh and learn with her heroine: how to get out before it turns into a tragedy.
What are some of the things you got up to as an alcoholic?
Ending up in A&E after blacking out on a solo bender, still wearing my office garb and clutching my briefcase can hardly be considered normal behaviour for a middle-aged woman. But it was just the jolt I needed to realise that my drinking was seriously out of control. I had hit my personal rock bottom.
In my forties, a mother of three and running my own business, I didn’t seem like your archetypal drunk. Most people like to assume an alcoholic is someone you see sleeping rough, lurching around mouthing obscenities and clutching a can of the strongest, cheapest beer like life itself depended upon it.
As with most alcoholics, I was in denial about my drinking and didn’t think there was anything wrong with drinking and driving – I mean literally doing both at the same time. During one of my more deranged moments, I was driving along the motorway, swigging from a bottle of alcoholic lemonade. However, I was being clever, so I thought, because I had stuffed the bottle inside a large leather glove – if the police were to drive by, they wouldn’t think anything of it! No of course not – a woman chugging from a glove is a commonplace sight on the M42 skirting Birmingham. Now that is what is called ‘stinking thinking’ in the world of rehab.
Neither did I think twice about strapping my kids into the family car and heading out onto the roads with my blood alcohol level well over the legal limit.
I was lucky enough to find an affordable treatment centre and the moment I entered into rehab, I gave in to the whole process. I accepted the fact I was an alcoholic and it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders.
Now 10 years sober, following my stint in rehab, I went to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings as often as I could for several years. Whilst some people feel the need to attend AA meetings for the rest of their lives to maintain their sobriety – and there’s nothing wrong with that – I, personally, didn’t want to replace one addiction with another.
What effect has sobriety had on you?
One of the things that happens when you are sober is remember the things you did when you were drunk – all those dangerous, selfish things so you scare yourself silly. I’ve been sober for more than 10 years but even now I have drinking dreams – it is such a relief when I wake up as I’m so afraid of ever drinking again. When you are first sober you become evangelical, almost arrogant in the desire to want to save someone from the evils of alcohol.
Your book, Whilst I Was Out, tells the turbulent story of Alice who has to go through some very tough times which I think lots of readers will identify with.
When you hit middle age, it’s a time that you assess things, you feel less obliged to fit in and care more about being who you are. It’s about having the courage to face up to who you are and stick two fingers up at everyone else.
How easy did you find writing the book? Were you disciplined at writing at the same time every day?
My PR and Marketing company pays the bills but I felt too unwell to work whilst having chemo and that’s when the book just splurged out of me at once. I’ve since been commissioned to write two more fiction books – I’ve got a great idea for a thriller – as well as a self-help book I’ve been asked to write.
Your undergraduate thesis was a comparison between Worzel Gummidge’s Devon accent and that of a real Devonian.
I did linguistics as part of my English Language and Literature degree at Newcastle University so the topic made perfect sense to me! I loved Newcastle and would have liked one of my three children to study there.
Do your children resent what you put them through when they were young?
They are very proud of me – they were pretty young when it all happened so I have been sober for the majority of their lives, they are 18, 21 and 22 now. They really don’t remember very much about it other than me being a ‘fun mum’ – when I stopped drinking they said I wasn’t as fun any more. They have all read the book and enjoyed it.
What would you say to anyone reading this who is ready to seek help for alcohol addiction?
Today my life isn’t problem free. It’s normal. However, when confronted with an issue these days, I deal with it and get on with life and learn from the experience. So if the girl who had to get blotto when someone criticised her can become the woman who went through breast cancer diagnosis, the ensuing treatment swiftly followed by the loss of her beloved father without touching a drink, anyone can.
Whilst I was Out is published by Pegasus.