This is the most autobiographical of my novels. I had three miscarriages and two IVF attempts, and underwent six different traditional fertility treatments in five different countries, en route to conceiving my daughter. And I have renovated two old Greek houses – one I rented for four years on the island of Karpathos, and the one we own now in the mountains of Crete.
The traditional infertility treatments are chronicled in my narrative non-fiction book, My Children, My Gold – almost every woman I stayed with took pity on my infertility and took me to the best healer she knew.
You can read the true story of the Crete renovation here.
If you’re interested in turning your own life into a novel or non-fiction narrative, I discuss some of the issues involved here.
Sylvia longs for a baby. After two miscarriages and years of IVF treatment, she is obsessed with finding a cure for her infertility. On the brink of a nervous breakdown, she abandons her hospital job and buys a derelict cottage on the Greek island of Crete. Here, in the clean air and sparkling sea of the Aegean, she sets about purifying her body, convinced that this will help her conceive.
But in the hypnotic heat and beauty of the island, her desire for a baby is gradually eclipsed by a new obsession: to find out more about Martin, the troubled young builder she hires to help renovate the cottage. Where does he vanish to each night? Why does he keep his mother’s ashes in his red campervan? And why won’t he talk about how she died?
‘sensuous, absorbing, evocative’ Hilary Mantel
‘fabulous, beautifully written and vividly colourful, this is a terrific book’ Joanne Harris
‘a troubling and elegantly written novel, by turns weird and compelling’ Daily Mail
‘a smart affecting read of depth and perspicacity. Taylor’s depictions of depression, infertility and their ramifications are heart-breakingly spot-on’ Scotland on Sunday
Hungry Ghosts (excerpt)
Suddenly the sand drops away beneath her feet and a wave hits her like a closed door, knocking the breath from her lungs.
Sylvia parks the car and sits back for a moment against the doughy upholstery. It’s six a.m. on Valentine’s Day and she’s been speeding down the Coast Road with the heater blasting. The streets are dark outside. Her swimming costume feels slithery inside the fleece of her tracksuit. Is she really going to do this?
She turns off the engine; the heater; the headlights. This is Bennet’s car, really. Long and solid, like him; a safe cocoon, with air conditioning and quad sound. Roll bars and air bags. Even switched off, the engine ticks and hums.
A gust of sea wind buffets the window and rocks the car slightly. The shop windows on the sea-front are black. The pavement glitters with frost.
Scooping up her towel, she gets out and slams the door. Out in the open, the cold hits her face like a slap and her lungs fill with the smell of the sea. She exhales an orange cloud in the glow of the street-lamps. Everything is murky orange: the white walls of the pub, her winter-pale skin, her new trainers; the chip wrappers cartwheeling past her down the street. It’s like the inside of her aunt’s darkroom.
She crosses the road and looks down into St Edward’s Bay, a faint curve of sand fringed by rocks, far below in the darkness. She can see a blur of waves crashing, and a fraction later their sound reaches her: the suck and sneeze of the North Sea. Her cheeks are scuffed by the wind and her eyes are smarting. Swathes of seaweed are strewn like tresses across the beach.
Walking down the steps, she feels the handrail icy under her fingers. The weeds on the bank are stiff and frosted. A dark pipit flicks away as she submerges away from the orange light. There’s a beer glass upended on the bottom step.
Down on the beach the roar of the sea fills her head. Ghostly grey in the darkness, the waves rear up, curl over, smash down like a tennis serve. They flail at the shore, claw at the tumbled rocks below the ruins of the Priory. Cod-cold, the black water stretches all the way to the Arctic.
Underfoot the sand is crisp as snow, peppered with the blow holes of invisible worms. She finds a rock and starts tugging off her trainers and socks.
Unzipping her tracksuit top, she notices what looks like a lump of driftwood lying in a niche between the rocks. When it blinks at her, she realises it’s a seal: its head perfectly round; its body a dense tapered sleeping-bag. Has she woken it?
The seal gazes at her with calm eyes as she folds her clothes neatly on the rock. When she’s finished, it turns and makes its way unhurriedly down the beach towards the clamouring waves.
Sylvia watches it go, the wind biting into her bare shoulders. Shards of icy sand prick her bare feet. Her arms are smocked with goosebumps. She thinks of the tiny muscles raising each hair on her forearm. She thinks of the capillaries in her skin squeezing shut to push her blood deeper into her body, to keep her heart warm, her lungs, her liver. Her wounded ovaries, cratered by the technician’s needle. Her empty womb.
Her feet are numb by the time she reaches the water. As she walks in, the numbness spreads up her legs; a burning numbness, like electricity and strong peppermint. Her knees, her thighs, are disappearing, her skin shrinking like silk under a hot iron.
Suddenly the sand drops away beneath her feet and a wave hits her like a closed door, knocking the breath from her lungs. The door opens and gulps her down into a room of ice bubbles. There’s freezing mercury in her armpits. It’s squeezing her chest until she can’t breathe. A polar noose is closing around her neck. Her thighs are compressed in an armour of ice. She’s in a straightjacket padded with snow. Her limbs are disconnecting from her body: frozen meat, numb as skittles.
For a moment she panics, thinking she’s paralysed. This is how people drown, she thinks. Then it begins: the fizzing feeling she’s been longing for; red sherbet buzzing in her fingers and toes. Weeping hot tears, she starts to swim.