Acclaimed writer Helen Dunmore has revealed a recent diagnosis of cancer "with a very poor prognosis".
In a piece for the Guardian this weekend, 64-year-old Dunmore wrote: "The ground beneath my feet has never been more uncertain, but what is sure is that the ambulance has already called and there is no vagueness about my mortality."
Her comments came in an article reflecting on issues of mortality and of legacy, in the context of her new novel Birdcage Walk (Hutchinson). Dunmore wrote of the "narrative of lengthening lifespans, of extraordinary treatments that fend of death for decades" that is a feature of Western Europe in 2017, unlike previous generations where "Death and the living walked hand in hand and could not easily pretend that they had nothing to do with each other."
In Birdcage Walk, which deals with a small group of radicals in Bristol at the end of the 18th century, a time "when idealism and curiosity blazed through a thousand speeches, pamphlets and poems", Dunmore said: "I wanted to write about people who had not left behind their own accounts of their lives. Their letters have been lost, their pamphlets have not been preserved, their money has not amounted to an inheritance and they had no epitaphs". She reflected: "Even if nothing concrete has been handed down, that isn't to say that an individual has left no trace of her existence. A look, a gesture transmitted from parent to child, a way of dressing, a song sung by a bedside may travel down the generations. It's an intangible legacy but a very real one. Perhaps a child of 2017 might stand next to her great-great-great-grandmother and reveal their kinship in a turn of phrase. We die, but do not quite die out."
Dunmore's work includes novels, poetry and children's books, and she is a past winner both of the Orange Prize for Fiction (A Spell of Winter, 1996) and the McKitterick Prize (Zennor in Darkness, 1993). Her 2001 book The Siege (Viking) was shortlisted for both the Orange Prize and the Whitbread Novel of the Year award.