Cory Taylor died recently after a long fight with cancer. She left behind a remarkable book that was written in the space of a few weeks when her illness became untreatable. ‘Dying: A Memoir’ is a moving account of what dying taught her about life. It made me realise that when I wake up in the morning just dying to write, I am most truly alive.
Margaret Drabble describes Cory’s memoir as ‘a powerful, poignant and lucid last testament…an evocation of the joys, sorrows and precariousness of life.’
I hadn’t heard of Cory Taylor until her memoir was brought to my attention. Now I can’t wait to read her two novels, ‘Me and Mr Booker’ which won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize in 2012 and ‘My Beautiful Enemy’, shortlisted for the Miles Franklin in 2014.
I’ve been to some wonderful funerals over the years but also to a few where I’ve been saddened and appalled by eulogies that failed to acknowledge the rich and eventful lives of those who had died.
They made me recall being at a dinner party after ‘The Lost Child’ was published and the host saying wistfully. ‘It must be wonderful to write a book. To leave something behind that will live on long after you’ve gone.’
Born to that generation of women raised to reassure men, and remembering that I once heard the writer, Thea Astley, say that her greatest creations were her four children, I suggested there were other ways to leave our mark on the world, and that children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren—the continuation of our line—was a much greater legacy.
Greater? Or equal? Irrelevant really. Cory says family and writing were the two major anchors of her life, and she writes beautifully about both. In separatng out her reflections on writing, I am reminded of a game I used to play with my grandson when he was small.
‘Who’s your second favourite football team?’ ‘The Swans.’ ‘Me too!’ ‘Who’s your third favourite?’ ‘The Bulldogs.’ ‘Me too!’
Cory says: ‘…I’m never happier than when I’m writing or thinking about writing, or watching the world as a writer…’ Me too!
And: ‘Writing, even if most of the time you are only doing it in your head, shapes the world and makes it bearable…’ Yes! For me too!
And this: ‘Emma Thompson once said that writing a screenplay was like trying to organise a mass of stray iron filings. You have to make the magnetic field so strong that it imposes its own order and holds the world of the screenplay in its tight suspenseful grip. In fiction you can sometimes be looser and less tidy but for much of the time you are choosing what to exclude from your fictional world in order to make it hold the line against chaos.’
Yes! Holding the line against chaos! Thank you, Cory Taylor, for finding the words to express exactly what I’ve been struggling to understand myself.
And more: ‘And that is what I’m doing in this my final book: I am making a shape for my death, so that I and others can see it clearly. And I am making dying bearable for myself.’
My host at the dinner party was right. It is wonderful to leave behind a book. Any book. But particularly one that will inform and inspire and enlighten and shape the lives of generations to come. In ‘Dying: A Memoir’, Cory Taylor has done just that.
As I write, it is a beautiful day in Melbourne, Australia, more like the beginnings of spring than the middle of winter. It is a perfect day to celebrate living in all of its randomness and complexity.
It is also a perfect day to celebrate writers. Cory Taylor for her memoir. My husband who has recently finished his own memoir and now has to live with the huge gap left by its completion. Writers everywhere–all of us–who struggle with our writing, and want to give up, and find the courage to keep trying.
Read Corey Taylor. She will inspire you.