The write word

Posted on: 10th October, 2016

Category: Features

Contributor: Mary O'Brien

ABOVE: Mary Malone and Patricia Ingles

When she’s not busy in her full-time position as Staff Engagement Officer at the Central Statistics Office, Bandon woman Mary Malone is juggling being an author, ghostwriter, freelance journalist, publisher and publicist. “If I’m passionate about something, I make the time,” says Mary without batting an eyelid.

Mary has just seen the completion of a two-year ghostwriting project ¬ one that became very close to her heart – with the publication of ‘I Am Free’, Patricia Ingle’s memoir. It tells the story of an inspirational young Limerick woman who at the tender age of 19 contracted a rare airborne brain infection that left her in a locked-in state of complete paralysis and incarcerated in hospital for 1,069 days. Mary Malone talks to Mary O’Brien about her experience ghostwriting this exceptional story.

“I found myself instantly drawn to the story Patricia wanted to write,” says Mary. “Aged 19, she was working in a pet shop, doing what she’d dreamed of and working with animals. But her dream turned into a cruel nightmare when she contracted a rare virus from parrots and ended up on a life support machine fighting for her life.

“Despite the odds being stacked against her and the experts preparing her family for the worst, Patricia survived her ordeal but was locked in for a period of months before very slowly coming out of her coma and coming to terms with a horrific set of circumstances facing her for the rest of her life. She spent almost three years in hospital and had to engage a legal team to help her be released home. Her illness has left her unable to eat or drink, balance, touch, breathe unassisted, or speak without a speaking valve.”

As she sat with Patricia and her family on that first afternoon in September 2014, Mary listened in awe to a brief summary of her personal story, intrigued and inspired in equal measures and adjusting to the communication challenges as well as she could.

“Because Patricia has a tracheostomy, hearing her story was challenging – but far from impossible. She was able to wear a speaking valve for short periods of times which allowed her to voice her thoughts. It also allowed me to hear her speak. And outside of that her amazing family supported us by lip-reading Patricia as well as telling parts of the story themselves.”

Six weeks later, Mary got a phonecall from Patricia’s family saying they’d like her to be the writer to help get the story from Patricia’s head onto the page and write her book.

I must admit I felt a mixture of excitement and terror! Would I be able to do Patricia justice? How on earth would I turn this story into a book? Was I good enough? Would communication be a problem? But I gave the only answer I could – a resounding ‘yes’! Up to now I’d been making things up, writing fiction and fully in charge of where the story came from and where it was going. But I knew after that one meeting that I wanted to try. I was ready to take on the challenge.

Thoughout all the hours of meetings and detailed research, Mary said she was always conscious that this was somebody elses story and it had to Patricia’s voice. “Writing what you’re ‘asked’ to write and not what you think you should be writing is very important.”

“I felt enormous responsibility throughout the entire period,” says Mary. “As much work went into verifying every word, as gathering every word, ensuring all parties involved – including Patricia’s solicitor – were happy.

“Patricia’s hope is that her story will help and motivate others to fight for what is right for them, taking a leaf from her ‘book’ and never giving up. She feels so strongly about this that she dedicated her book to those who find themselves in hospital through no fault of their own.”

Throughout the project, Mary and Patricia worked very closely together. “Our ghost writing experience was very much built on trust,” says Mary. “It is difficult not to get involved, as I don’t think it would work otherwise, particularly with a story as sensitive as ‘I Am Free’. However, we also maintained a professional approach and adhered to deadlines and planning as otherwise the book would never have been finished.”

Patricia, who celebrated her 28th birthday last month, is improving and is coping exceptionally well according to Mary. “She is so happy to be home with her family and this helps her face the day with a smile on her face. She is gaining independence but accepts that she is reliant on 24-hour care.”

‘I Am Free’ is a story of a young woman who maintains her wicked sense of humour and smiles through all the pain and frustration life has thrown at her.

The Judge presiding over Patricia’s High Court hearing described Patricia as “the most impressive witness ever to come before the court”.

An expert in the Oxford Centre for Enablement said, “I’ve seen your scans – you’re not supposed to be here!”

“Patricia is an uplifting inspiration for everyone she meets and a perfect example of how personal determination and the backing of an amazing family can transform even the most hopeless of outlooks into the brightest of futures.” Susie Elliott, Patricia’s Solicitor.

As a result of this project, Mary Malone, with the assistance of her son David, has set up Mother and Son, offering professional publishing, editorial and proofreading services.

www.motherandson.ie for details of ‘I am Free’ and where it can be purchased.

www.marymalone.ie for details on Mary Malone and her other books.

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