In her second memoir, author Kay McCracken explores her journey from ill-health and despair to healing and a place of peace. )Image credit-Jim Elliott/Salmon Arm Observer

Writing her way to recovery

Shuswap author finds healing and well-being by writing

After the success of her debut book, A Raven in My Heart: Reflections of a Bookseller, Kay McCracken had no plans to write another memoir.

At rock bottom and in ill health after closing Reflections, her beloved Shuswap Street bookstore, at the end of 1998, McCracken says she was alone, frightened and grief-stricken.

Her odyssey to recovery is the fodder for her second memoir Beyond the Blue Door: a writer’s journey.

“The blue door is a symbol or metaphor for anything you want to get beyond: your fears, fear of failure, fear of success, it could be anything,” she says, noting the colour and its implications for her illuminate different phases of her life,

“My blue phase began with the blue stone, an unexpected gift from a Shuswap (Secwepemc) First Nations friend, during my book selling days,” she writes, noting there is an Indigenous element in the book. “Or it may have begun even earlier, with the little blue monkey – I was 11 or so then – or with the Blue Room when I was 16.”

Middle-aged when she closed her store, McCracken says she struggled with a sense of hopelessness and failure, and a consideration of whether she wanted to live.

“If you decide to live, you dig deep to find out what’s important to you,” she says. “Hiding isn’t an option anymore. I found my reason to go on when I began writing about the experience.”

The eldest of five children, McCracken soon moved in to care for her mother who had suffered a series of strokes. She watched her mother’s body and mind slowly disintegrate and says part of her new memoir is about growing to understand who her mother really was.

“The road was rocky at first as two independent, strong-willed women shared a space, but I discovered something: the more I accepted my mother for who she was, the more I was able to accept parts of myself that I’d denied,” she says. “As I dug up buried memories I was able to see a clearer picture. My mother was the biggest surprise, for the woman was so much more than I had imagined.”

McCracken says she struggled with almost every sentence, questioning what should be included in the book and what would be better left out. While she consulted many of the people in her book, McCracken says, in the end, she just wrote her own truth from her heart.

“You have to be honest and true to your own version of the truth,” she says. “This is the truth from my own perspective.”

McCracken says many issues are woven through the book, including mental illness – primarily depression and anxiety. But the author is quick to point out the book is not all about her struggles.

A founding member of the Shuswap Association of Writers and the Word on the Lake Writers’ Festival, McCracken also became involved with writers’ groups on the provincial level. Participation in these groups was another source of healing.

Beyond the Blue Doors is being published by Rutherford Press in Qualicum Beach. Director and editor-in-chief George Opacic has assured McCracken that her book will be available in time for Christmas!

She has dedicated her memoir to her mother, Marion Kathleen McCracken, whose favourite colour was green and is thrilled Salmon Arm artist Frieda Martin has designed the cover.

Look for Beyond the Blue Door: a writer’s journey at all local bookstores, or at Amazon Kindle as an ebook.

Author Caroline Woodward has read a draft of McCracken’s book. She writes:

“I have such respect for Kay McCracken’s indomitable spirit and unquenchable creativity. In this, her second memoir, her eloquent and brave insights offer life-changing revelations about anxiety, depression, children of alcoholics, care-giving and reconciling with aging parents, hard-won self-awareness and how one good and tough soul hung on to her dream of writing until she became a prolific and beloved poet, performer, journalist and memoirist. As she says best: ‘Life dishes up enough heartache; I’ll grab joy while I can.’ This writer and this book are an inspiration and comfort.”

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