I’m often taken aback by what a small world it is, when it comes to authors and books. Late last year, I had a polite approach from Dan Jeffries, a Bristol-based author, offering me a free review copy of his memoir about his life with two rare health conditions. I was happy to read it, when time allowed, but in the meantime I popped it into my (very large) “to read and review” box to await its turn.
Next thing I knew, I had a request from Grace Palmer, another author whom I’d met at a recent reading, asking me to be a guest speaker at her May Novel Nights event, alongside one Dan Jeffries – plus another author whose book I’ve just read and reviewed, A A Abbott (read my review of Up in Smoke here), whom I’d read alongside at an event in the Bristol branch of Foyles in March.
With my memory proving uncharacteristically reliable (aided by Dan’s distinctive and memorable cover), I delved into the box and pulled out his book, determined to read it before we became fellow panellists.
The Jeffries’ Take on Medical Memoirs
Although it was a massive tome, at 480 pages, and I was short of reading time, I was in glad to have the prompt to make me read it, not least because I’ve written a health-related memoir myself (about how Type 1 diabetes has affected my husband and daughter), and I was interested to see someone else’s approach. It has to be said, I was also intrigued by his extremely rare medical conditions.
My medical memoir, Coming to Terms with Type 1 Diabetes, sold in aid of diabetes charity JDRF, is so slim that I hardly dare to call it a book, so the prospect of 480 pages on living with two rare health conditions seemed mammoth by comparison. Crikey, this is going to be a LOT of medical info to take in, I thought…
But that was not to be, because Jeffries’ memoir turned out to be primarily an account of the whole of his life, loves, and career to date, in which his medical conditions make an occasional entrance, taking centre stage for a while, then exiting into the wings of the narrative until the next medical crisis.
While this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting from the blurb, it was still an engaging read. Jeffries comes across as a likable, fluent companion who lives life to the full, and, though unlucky in health matters, has been fortunate enough to study and work in areas about which he feels passionately – drama and modern electronic music. He also has a very supportive and understanding family and social network.
It’s from this unexpected balance that the key message of the book emerges: that it’s possible to live with one and even two serious illnesses and still lead an active and fulfilling life. That’s a hugely inspiring take-away.
Another Notch on his Talents Belt
Having enjoyed reading this book, I’d say that Jeffries should add writing to his list of talents and passions. I suggest he considers writing more books, whether non-fiction or fiction, to make the most of his undoubted way with words. I should also mention that he has been very creative, technologically speaking, with the way he’s prepared and presented this book: if you read the ebook version, you’ll find the text peppered with links that take you directly to his website to show you illustrations or even play music that are referred to in the text. There are no pictures in the print book, which I read, but you can still access this bonus material via your PC using the numbered footnotes.
Important note: this is a frank account, not for the squeamish or prudish, including several points at which he tells his parents to skip the next few pages. For some readers, that level of intimate detail will be an added draw, but others may not be so keen. Consider yourself warned!
Sharing a Stage
As a postscript, I should add that, between us, A A Abbott, Dan Jeffries and I did a great triple-act at Novel Nights last night! Although our books are very different, we’re all real self-starters and passionate about all that we do, and we had great feedback from our audience. If you’re a Bristol-based writer, Novel Nights, run by Grace Palmer and Helen Sheppard, is a great series of events and definitely worth checking out for regular inspiration and networking opportunities. Read more about Novel Nights here: www.novelnights.co.uk.
After the event, Dan told me that he’s currently open to invitations for more speaking engagements of any kind, so if you’re after a motivational speaker on triumphing over medical adversity, or just want a fun, savvy raconteur, he’d love to hear from you.
For more about Dan Jeffries, his book, and his other activities, check out his website: www.memyselfandeye.co.uk.