An oncologist on the human cost to treating cancer and why she believes we need to re-think how to fight the disease.
British author Rosamund Lupton’s debut novel, “Sister,” begins with a letter. Older sister Beatrice writes, “Dearest Tess, I’d do anything to be with you right now.” But Tess has been found dead. She was discovered in a public bathroom with cuts on her arms. The police suspect suicide, but Beatrice won’t accept it. As she grieves, she also begins to search for Tess’s killer. The mystery drives the novel toward a surprising final twist, but along the way eloquently explores the ethics of genetics, the experience of grief, and the deep bond of sisterhood.
- Rosamund Lupton Author
Read an Excerpt
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. British author, Rosamund Lupton, begins her novel, "Sister," with a phone call no one wants to get. New York career woman, Beatrice, learns her younger sister, Tess, is missing in London. Soon after, Tess is found dead. Beatrice embarks on her own investigation to find her sister's killer. Along the way, she discovers that genetics and a possible cure for a cystic fibrosis could be involved.
MS. DIANE REHMThe novel is a bestseller in the UK. It's just been published in the U.S. Rosamund Lupton joins me in the studio. And, of course, we'll take your calls, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to email@example.com, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, it's good to have you here.
MS. ROSAMUND LUPTONGood morning, Diane. It's lovely to be here. Thank you.
REHMI must say, this story is so much about the bond between two sisters who truly, truly love each other.
LUPTONYes, that what's inspired me to write the book, was I wanted to celebrate sisterhood. I'm very close to my own younger sister. I wanted to write about the power of that bond, especially the feelings an older sister has for younger one, which are quite often very protective and a feeling of responsibility. So that was my first inspiration for the book.
REHMAnd that really comes through here. I must say, the shock of receiving a call like that, when you're in New York, your family is in London, your sister, your mother, in London. Your sister is missing.
LUPTONYes. I mean, I had that idea of a phone call very early on and it seemed to me that she's in this very safe but dull life, having a very dull lunch party...
LUPTONYes, Beatrice. And she has this incendiary phone call where her whole life is suddenly blown apart and she gets on the first flight. She jettisons her old life and runs to the rescue, which I think a reaction most older sisters would have in their circumstances. In part, I think, she can make it better. Part of her thinks as an older sister, she can get there and she can find her sister and she can tell her off for putting her through this. And another part of her is just simply terrified.
REHMShe actually, that is Beatrice, leaves her fiancé, Todd, to whom she's to be married in three months or so to go to London. And shortly after she gets there, she finds that Tess has died, circumstances very, very curious.
LUPTONYes. I mean, the police are convinced that Tess committed suicide, that she'd prematurely given birth to a baby who was stillborn. Her wrists are cut and so from the evidence, it looks like suicide. But Beatrice, as an older sister, feels that she knows her younger sister better than anybody possibly could and that there's no way she would've taken her own life, so it's that absolute certainty that she knows her sister that then propels her on this detective task, really, to find out the truth.
REHMRosamund, read for us from the novel, if you would.
LUPTONYeah, this is just after Tess' been found dead and the whole novel is a letter to Tess. "Why am I writing this to you? I deflected that question last time, talked about my need to make sense of it all, my dots of detail revealing quantalistic (sp?) painting. I doubt the real part of the question, why to you? Is this a make believe game of the almost insane?
LUPTONSheets and blankets make a tent, a pirate ship or a castle. You are the fearless knight, Leo was a swashbuckling prince and I am the princess and narrator, telling the stories I wanted. I was always the storyteller, wasn't I? Do I think you can hear me? Absolutely yes, definitely not, take your pick. I do hourly. Put simply, I need to talk to you. Mom told me I didn't say very much 'til you were born, then I had a sister to talk to and I didn't stop. I don't want to stop now. If I did, I'd lose a part of me. It's a part of me I'd miss.
LUPTONI know you can't criticize or comment on my letter to you, but that doesn't mean I don't know your criticisms or guess at your comments, just as you used to know and guess at mine. It's a one-way conversation, but one that I could only have with you and it's to tell you why you were murdered. I could start at the end, give you the answer, the final page, but you'd ask a question that would lead back a few pages, then another, all the way to where we are now, so I'll tell you one step at a time as I find out myself with no reflecting hindsight."
LUPTONAnd now Beatrice is talking to the criminal prosecution lawyer. "'A policeman I hadn't meant before asked me to identify her. I have told Mr. Wright what I have told you, minus deals with the devil and now the non-essential details for my statement.' 'What time was this,' he asks, and his voice is kind, as it has been throughout this interview, but I can't answer him. The day you were found, time went demented. A minute lasted half a day, an hour went past in seconds.
LUPTONLike a children's storybook, I flew in and out of weeks and through the years, seconds start at the right and straight on 'til morning that would never arrive. I was in a Darly (sp?) painting of creeping clocks, a Mad Hatter's tea party time. No wonder Ordon (sp?) said, stop all the clocks. It was a desperate grab for sanity.
LUPTON'I don't know what time it was,' I reply. I decide to chance a little of my truth. 'Time didn't mean anything to me anymore. Usually time alters and affects everything. But when someone you love dies, time cannot change that. No amount of time will ever change that, so time stops having any meaning.' When I saw your strand of hair, I knew that grief is love turned into an eternal missing."
REHMRosamund Lupton reading from her new book, "Sister." Do join us, 800-433-8850. In that reading, you mention Leo. Leo is their brother, who dies of cystic fibrosis when he is but seven.
REHMAnd so that haunts both sisters.
LUPTONAbsolutely. It's central to the novel. It informs both the other daughters who survive and also is a potential kind of part of the plot, if you like, as well. He died when he was young, in the days before cystic fibrosis or people suffering from it could be expected to live much beyond 10. Nowadays, I think their life expectancy's much higher, it's 30 to 40 now, but it's still a terrible disease and at the moment, there isn't a cure for it.
REHMSo you had to do a fair amount of research into CF to really go into that.
LUPTONYes, I did and it's a very fast evolving kind of thing to look into because there's so much research going on all the time, especially in the field of genetics. The gene that causes cystic fibrosis was discovered in 1989. And ever since then, scientists have working on a genetic cure which would actually treat the cause of the disease rather than deal with the consequences of it. So I suppose the Holy Grail, which I have in the book, which unfortunately is still fiction, is that a baby's treated while still in the womb and is cured of this terrible disease.
LUPTONI just want to say, personally, I'm completely positive about this and the book is, too, about a potential genetic cure, but at the same time, it does look at the reverse of that, to what knowledge of genetics can do for, I think, rather sinister reasons, which is not about curing disease, but which is about enhancing what is already perfect.
REHMWhy did you choose CF?
LUPTONI chose it for a number of reasons. I mean, one of which is that this gene has been discovered. So although it's a fiction, it's a credible fiction, that hopefully this will actually happen at some point in the future. It's also, unfortunately, a rather common disease. I think there are 30,000 Americans who suffer from cystic fibrosis and 10 million carriers. It's something that most people have some connection to. And my husband's a doctor, so I hear stories about people with cystic fibrosis. And a friend is a nurse at Great Ormond Street treating children who suffer from cystic fibrosis.
REHMYou have a number of friends who've been involved in this novel.
LUPTONYes, I do. I mean, they're sort of quiet friends behind the scenes, if you like, which enabled me to actually write the novel. We're a group of moms at the school where my children go and they simply gave me the time to write the book.
LUPTONWell, I arrived at school and I said, it's fantastic, I've got a publishing deal, but they want me to write about 40,000 words, rewrite it, and I've got three months and I just don't know how I'm going to do it. Had a tiny infant that's much too small for childcare. And one of them just got out a diary and said, I can take the boys on this date and this date and then other people followed suit.
LUPTONSomeone else said, I'll make that costume for the end of term play, 'cause I wouldn't have time to do that. And on snow days, they'd take them for me and it was just fantastic. So they enabled me to finish the book and they're acknowledged at the end.
REHMAs close as sisters.
LUPTONYes. exactly. A sort of sisterhood I discovered after I'd written the book or during the book.
LUPTONYes. For me, reading it now, part of it looks to me like a journal of friendship. I read a section, I think, that's when Kelly took my boys for me or that's when Trixie had them for a sleepover and I could work out the time structure, 'cause I had some 24 hours uninterrupted time to do that.
REHMDid you have a lifelong ambition to write?
LUPTONAbsolutely, ever since I could hold a pencil, I've wanted to write a book and I was very fortunate. My best friend's mother was a publisher. So when I was about six, I knew what an author was and I thought that sounded a fantastic thing to do.
REHMHow did this one get started finally?
LUPTONI used to be a script writer and a director just said, I don't want a novel, as he'd looked at my script. I'd written too much stage direction, so it was sort of in my mind. I had two children and then it didn't fit, writing -- script writing didn't fit with family life and I thought I could finally write the novel that had been in my head for a long time, which was, "Sister."
REHMBut the conceit, if you will, is to put it into the form of a letter to one's sister who has already died.
REHMAnd to think of that sister as hearing and feeling and understanding precisely what you are writing.
LUPTONYes. I see it almost as one-half of a dialog. She's talking to her sister, but she can imagine the response all the time. I went to boarding school and so did my sister and we used to write to each other all the time, so I think the idea of sisters writing to each other is something I've got from my own experience.
REHMBut, of course, Tess writes in a wonderful way, she uses lemon juice...
REHM...so that the headmistress will not know.
LUPTONExactly. We can't read it and I have actually used that and we have used jigsaw letters, which you write and then you break up the pieces of the jigsaw and then your sister has to put them together at the other end.
REHMRosamund Lupton, the novel is titled, "Sister." Short break, right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, we have the author of a novel that has become a bestseller in England. It's titled, "Sister." Rosamund Lupton is the author. It's her very first novel. It's a thriller as well as a novel, so there are literary elements here that really have used the form of letter writing to a dead sister to a wonderful degree. Tess' older sister, Beatrice, has been working in New York as a designer, so she sort of sees things in color. What's that all about?
LUPTONYes. I like the idea that Tess, who's an artist, the younger sister, has painted these huge canvases, explosions of color and Beatrice manages a design studio and every color in the world, she knows the (word?) number that matches it, so she has the opposite view, if you like, of the world and everything is kinda categorized for her and part of her journey is to kind of step out of that boundary.
REHMAnd Beatrice is orderly. She's -- her life is sort of well self-regimented...
REHM...whereas Tess, a free spirit who sort of goes with the moment.
LUPTONExactly. I think Beatrice is such quite a fearful person and she holds onto life with this rather secure but dull draw, but a rather secure but dull fiancé. And she doesn't really have the courage to kind of let go and see what would happen. And Tess is the opposite of that. She's quite courageous in the way she lives life and unfearful.
REHMTheir father left them and their mother shortly after Leo, the little boy, dies of cystic fibrosis. What do we know about him?
LUPTONI think he's obviously quite a weak man, the father. He just can't cope and he runs away. And one of the things Beatrice discovers about herself during the book is that she's done a similar thing. She's run off to New York. She's kind of deserted her mother and sister, which is not something she would ever recognized in herself before.
LUPTONBut during the novel, the father shows, actually, how much he does love his children and proves a kind of strength, which I think redeems him, hopefully, in the book.
REHMWhere does this novel come from, Rosamund?
LUPTONI'm not sure. I think obviously my own love for my younger sister in forms a sister thing.
LUPTONI had an image very early on. I was a script writer, as I said, and I had this image of Beatrice being very uptight and slightly conservative in her very sort of neat little suit, changing into her younger sister's clothes, scruffy Bohemian clothes, putting on a scruffy wig over her own very neat hair and playing the part of her sister in the police reconstruction.
LUPTONAnd I like that because it showed how different sisters are and despite their differences, how fiercely protective Beatrice is. But also, it kind of prefigures what happens to Beatrice during the book and that she becomes more and more like Tess and yet, actually, she does actually wear her clothes, so that was an image that kinda started me creatively, if you like, in the book.
REHMVery interesting, once Beatrice puts Tess' clothes on, she sort of feels Tess...
REHM...on her body, somehow the fragrance, obviously, of one human being and another, but more than that.
LUPTONYes. I mean, she says it's almost an emotional vertigo, I think she describes it as, as her sister to being close and not there. And I think it is a sense of being wrapped up in her sister's clothes and smelling her. And yet, she's not there and I think it's a terrible moment for Beatrice than just to walk, do this police reconstruction wearing the clothes and wondering when her sister did this, what happened to her, so it's also very exposing.
REHMPart of the novel, as we've already said, has to do with cystic fibrosis, how it is transmitted to an infant. And we know -- we think we know that Tess has had a baby with cystic fibrosis. We're not sure of that, but we think that that's part of what's going on here.
LUPTONYes. I mean, I think Beatrice is looking at every possible lead that she can for what might have happened to Tess. And one of those leads is that she was taking part in a cystic fibrosis trial for a new cure, which was to treat babies in the womb. So that's one of the avenues she pursues alongside other ones. And it was interesting, as I said, to explore what makes sisters is partly genetic, biological sisters, so I was real interested in looking at genetics and actually kind of putting it under the microscope, if you like, as to what's happening.
REHMAnd there are a lot of doctors in this book, there are a lot of -- well, the search for this miracle cure, this search for something that can make it right in the womb so that the child doesn't suffer, even if both parents carry the gene.
LUPTONYes. I mean, it's, I suppose, what one all hopes for, that there will be someday this cure which is genetic, which will treat the child before the child's even born by replacing a faulty gene with a healthy one. I mean, it seems so simple, but I think it's obviously not simple and scientists have been working for decades now to try and find that cure. So it's slightly utopian, but also, as I say, something holding up something that could be potentially wonderful while also looking at the dark side of genetic science.
REHMWhat was your own reaction when this book went right to bestseller list?
LUPTONI'm completely astonished, (laugh). Stunned. I remember seeing my name next to Steve Glass and my husband and I roaring with laughter (laugh). Just seemed ridiculous. I thought, it has to be a mistake, so -- and the publishers ran out of books in the first week. I mean, I don't think anybody was expecting it to do that. And then it was just extremely exciting and also the reader feedback was wonderful, you know, having people talk to me about what they'd got from the book. It was amazing, so it's been a fantastic year.
REHMAs much about the sister relationship as about loss and grieving and...
LUPTONYeah, I mean, I've heard everything from someone saying, you've described grief and I haven't read that before, to someone saying, I was on my honeymoon and I stayed in the bathroom with the light on reading 'cause I had to finish it. I just thought, their poor husband, but (laugh) it was -- some people just like the detective, you know, turning the pages. And other people were affected by this depiction of grief. Or simply I had mothers saying, well, I'm buying three copes for each of my daughters. Or people coming in and I was signing books and buying ones always for their sister, s
REHMSo you did lots of book signings?
LUPTONNo, I didn't, actually. I don't really like book signings (laugh).
LUPTONI don't. It always feels -- you're sitting there and someone's coming to buy a motorbike manual and they're forced to go past your table. It's kind of embarrassing, but when I do do signings and I meet readers, it is interesting to hear what they say.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones. Going first to Florida. Good morning, Brian, you're on the air.
BRIANGood morning. I'd just like to share a real live story that -- a non-fiction story that I went through similar to that. I know what it is to deal with the grief of losing a loved one and getting that sudden phone call. I lost my brother at 31 years old to a car accident and an individual called me and just gave me the news, telling me that my brother had been killed in a car accident, which was a life-changing experience. That voice I never forget.
BRIANAnd then, to deal with death, I'm also a pastor. It changed my whole experience on how to deal with death after that. Not that I'm numb to death, death just doesn't affect me the way that it used to since I went through that. So to lose someone suddenly like that and to get that type of phone call, it is a very life-changing experience and there's no certain way to heal from that. There's no right or wrong way to heal from it. You just have to go through the process and learn how to heal.
REHMExactly. Brian, I'm certainly sorry for your loss. Thank you for calling this morning. You write very movingly about grief. Has that been part of your own life?
LUPTONI'm very fortunate, unlike your caller, that no, it hasn't as yet, but I'm -- I suppose I know what it is to love someone very much and I can imagine what it'd be like if that love were then turned into grief. It is the flipside, almost the same thing. And so I wrote about love, really. I didn't think I was writing about grief, I thought I was writing about love, but it became grief.
REHMCourse Beatrice is five years older than Tess. For many people, that five years would be an...
LUPTONYes. I mean, I obviously put the ocean between them as well. One's in America, one's in London. They're geographically separated. They're separated in terms of what they do with their lives and age. And despite that, or maybe even because of it, they're devoted to each other because I think the great thing about the link between sisters and the bond between sisters is that it's not a friendship thing. It's not about being similar or being close in age. It's about all sorts of other things and so it doesn't matter that they were different in age.
REHMDo you have other siblings as well?
LUPTONI just have one sister.
LUPTONSo yes. In fact, we're much closer in age than those two.
REHMAnd what about your own children?
LUPTONI have two boys, so I’m hoping that brothers are also a positive good thing as well. I'm looking at them and they seem to be very close. And yes. And I am interested in the difference between the way boys get on and girls, though I can see some of the same strength and bond between those two.
REHMAnd the difference is?
LUPTONSeventeen months, so they're very close together.
REHMAnd what about the differences in how they relate to each other from the way you have with your own sister?
LUPTONYes. Well, I think with boys, it's just much more physical. There's a lot more cubbing around and I walk in and think they're fighting and they go, no, no, we're enjoying it, Mum. (laugh) I can't imagine doing that with my sister. You know, you're probably dressing dollies or something, so it's taken a little readjusting to look at how brothers show their love for each other.
REHMAnd what about your husband? Does he have a sibling as well?
LUPTONYes, he has a brother and so he knows about brothers and is delighted to see his sons becoming so close.
REHMIs he as close to his brother as you have been to your sister?
LUPTONI think he's a lot less verbal about it. I've written an entire book about how close I am to my sister and he hasn't, so I think, like most men, they're more reticent about those emotions.
REHMI do think you're absolutely right. At one point, Beatrice says hair washing is one of the first corner cuttings of grief.
REHMWhat do you mean?
LUPTONI mean that when you're grieving, things like washing her hair, which had been an important part of her life, she just doesn't do anymore. Things that were superficial or she sees as superficial matter and it's about her changing her appearance is actually one of the things that happens during the book. And not minding about it so much and not being afraid to not to have washed her hair or not to have put on makeup or not to have worn the smart suit. Is actually turning into, by the end, a liberation for her. She's someone that's been very controlled by her outward appearance.
REHMCourse, Mum is not too happy to see Beatrice assume that kind of clothing.
LUPTONNo, she's not...
LUPTONYes, exactly. At first, I think she's horrified. Beatrice has always dressed -- I mean, one of the reasons I think Beatrice dresses so nicely, or her mother perceives as nice, is to win her mother's affection and admiration, but I think by the end, the mother also changes drastically. And at the end, I think she says, you look so like her. And I took the line out there, but it was, there was no hint of criticism in her voice. And that's how I imagined her saying that line, actually with affection, that she's glad that Beatrice looks like Tess by the end.
REHMBecause both girls somehow perceive their mother as being sad, as being depressed, as being apart because their father has left. Rosamund Lupton, she's the author of a first novel, "Sister." And we'll take a short break and be right back (sic). And we are going to take a call now. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's take a caller here in Washington, D.C. Amy, you're on the air.
AMYHi. I'm sorry. I just was listening to the show and I didn't hear it all, but it sounded to me as if there was a huge disconnect between the agent or your publisher, you know, giving you such a small amount to do such a huge job in a limited amount of time and then it skyrocketing to number one -- or to the bestseller list. Could you speak to that, please?
LUPTONYes, yes, that's fine. My publishers -- I think the advance was quite normal to have a reasonably small advance paid out in small amounts. It's -- I don't think they were being particularly mean or unreasonable. I was an unknown author and they gave me sort of enough, really. And it really was having a backup in the editorial input at that stage that was really important to me. I had a wonderful editor. And so they were giving me stuff, even if it wasn't money at that stage.
AMYBut -- sorry to interrupt, but you sign the book contract before the book comes out, so you're not really, as an author, able to capitalize on the profits unless it sells a lot, I mean, in royalties, right?
AMYSo I just find that really interesting. I mean, it's a gamble, obviously, whenever somebody buys a book. They can't guarantee it will be a bestseller, but I guess...
AMY...so it's sort of like your next book, you'll be able to get a great advance, hopefully.
LUPTONIt was a two-book deal, I'm afraid (laugh), so they got two.
REHMNow, tell me how you managed to get a two-book deal?
LUPTONI think that's the norm and I think that they ask...
LUPTON... for two books, yeah. And so...
LUPTON...I had to give ideas for the second book when they would give me a contract for, "Sister." And interestingly, all the ideas I had for the second book, when I actually came to write it, I thought they were terrible. Having written a novel, I realized just how much you have to love an idea to actually complete the novel, so I actually went to something completely different from the ones I had originally suggested.
REHMSo your next thought?
LUPTONMy next thought about the next book, yes.
LUPTONThe next book is about a mother running into a burning school to rescue her child and that love propels then through the rest of the book, so not hugely dissimilar for, "Sister." I think it's about family and...
REHMBut it strikes me that, you know, the deal you got from your publisher was no different than the kind of deal one would get here. One is given -- unless you're a really well-known author.
LUPTONYes, absolutely. And I kind of prefer it. I would rather that the book sells and then, you know, I participate in that success. I think it's very pressurizing to be maybe paid a lot of money and then have to come up with the goods.
LUPTONIt's actually wonderful. When the sales figures come in, we all celebrate and that's really nice.
REHMSo how is your family feeling about all this?
LUPTONWell, my boys are very funny. My oldest son's very proud. If there is a book signing, he comes and stands next to me, always. And he leafleted the whole street on buying my book. I couldn't work out while the neighbors knew the story and he'd gone around, age 10, and put leaflets through everybody's door, so they're very supportive and very proud.
REHMA publicist in the making.
LUPTONAbsolutely. He's my chief publicist.
REHMThat's wonderful. And the other son?
LUPTONThe other son, he thinks it's great, but he will say -- I will say, I got a review in The New York Times and he'll go, oh, great. Oh, my sausage is done (laugh). That's as much -- that's sort of how it goes.
REHMNow, I understand that totally. I mean, a mum is a mum is a mum.
LUPTONYes, absolutely. And that's primarily what I am and how I feel what I am, so.
REHMSo you're writing basically at home during whatever time you have.
LUPTONYes. While they're at school, I write. And then I write sometimes at night and when they've gone to bed. But when they're at home, I'm Mum, which seems to work quite well. I think -- I did try working for two weeks when my parents took the children. And by the end of two weeks, I was a wreck, writing 12 hours a day, so I think it's quite a good discipline, actually, having very focused writing day.
REHMThat's great, that's great. All right. Short break now and we'll take your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. Rosamund Lupton is with me. I have the feeling that many of you are enjoying listening to her as she talks about her first novel, "Sister," and are sitting back and listening without calling. We welcome your calls, 800-433-8850. And, you know, Rosamund, I'm looking at something that you wrote here in Mail Online, where you said you vividly remember the Sunday you said you were going to write a novel. What happened that day?
LUPTONI said to my husband, who was absolutely exhausted. He was working as a hospital doctor, doing extra work on top, I was going to write a book and that was going to help solve the family finances and mean that he could work less hard.
LUPTONAnd he very sweetly didn't say, that sounds a very unrealistic proposition to me. He was supportive and in retrospect, of course, I think that was not a realistic proposition. I only really wanted to write a book. But I sat down that Sunday and I tried to write and after about 50 words, I kind of tore that page up and started again.
LUPTONI did the same again and I thought, oh, this is really hard. This is going to be really, really difficult. But the next day, I write 500 words and gradually the word counting increased and my confidence increased until I'd got three chapters and I could send it off to an agent. And I'd promised my family that I'd write three chapters, send it off to an agent and if nothing happened, then I would pursue something else. Fortunately, someone at the agency loved it and so I carried on and finished the book.
LUPTONAnd she then moved to become commissioning editor at her publishers, which was just a stroke of huge good fortune, because many had read it and turned me down, but one person had really liked it and then she – yeah, she effectively bought the book at the publishers, so.
REHMAnd was it originally in the form of this letter?
LUPTONYes, it was always that way. In fact, when I did my big rewrite, I think about the caller who was saying how I could such big rewrite with little money, but the rewrite was plot. It was the letter between the sisters and the way the story's told didn't change at all. It was just making sure it wasn't obvious who the baddy was.
REHMBut it's interesting that the initial motivation came out of seeing your husband so tired, so exhausted and you wanting to help out financially.
LUPTONYes. I -- it was absolutely born of that. I think I could've written a few words or done a bit in-between doing other things as a mom, but to sit down and actually write 100,000 words, I think you do have to be committed and treat it absolutely like a job. I mean, I dropped the children and I would solidly until I picked them up and then work again in the night. And very fortunately for me, it did work. Otherwise, I'm not quite sure what I'd be doing now.
REHMBut that story had been in your head for a very long time?
LUPTONIt had. I'd those sisters in my head for a long time. I'd had a couple of scenes. I had the lunch that you mentioned with the phone call going very early on and the reconstruction, which I've talked about. So I'd had time for those sisters to kind of take shape before I actually wrote about them.
REHMAs you think back now on growing up with your own sister, did you have such a relationship with her that you could see writing these kinds of very, very personal letters?
LUPTONYes, I did. I think that the emotional truth is one I know very well. My sister and I are nothing like the characters, fortunately, but I know that bond very well and I could write about that. And my sister was very supportive. I mean, she read the novel before anybody else did.
LUPTONShe read early chapters before anybody else did and she was extremely enthusiastic and supportive and was the first person to read the whole thing and she phoned me. I was in Scotland Upper Mountain with my mobile and she phoned me and I remember she had to yell over the connection, I love it. It's brilliant.
REHMHow wonderful. All right. Let's take a caller in Salt Lake City, Utah. Good morning, Lisa.
LISAHow are you?
LISAI'm listening to this story and it's almost chilling because it's so close to what's happened in my own life. I'm driving into work, my sister was -- is deceased, was an artist. I'm a lawyer and I'm wearing her shirt as I'm driving into work. And whenever I put her clothes on, I do feel that she's with me and the anniversary of her death is in just a few days, June 8, so I'm so eager to read your book.
LUPTONWell, I'm very moved by your story and it's a terrible thing to hear and I hope that you find, if you do read the book, that it kind of at least conveys something of what you've been feeling. I hope so.
LISAIt's -- so few books are written about grief and I've found C. S. Lewis' book to be one of the most helpful, but I appreciate you writing it and I look forward to reading it.
LUPTONWell, thank you very much. I'm very touched by that.
REHMThanks for calling. And C. S. Lewis is a writer who really can move one in that way.
REHMIs he someone you've read?
LUPTONAbsolutely. I mean, I think -- in fact, there's a passage in sister where she talks about Narnia and the statues having life breathed on them again and spring coming back to Narnia and that's something, an image that is very important to me, actually, and I think is important to a lot of people as an image for what can happen. You know, that grief isn't the end of the story.
REHMExactly. To Orlando, Fla. Good morning, Kelly.
KELLYHi. Yes, my youngest sister -- I have two sisters and one's three years younger and the other one's about 10 and she actually attempted suicide. We're lucky that she survived it, about 10 years ago. And so I'd like to hear about the conviction of the author -- I'm sorry, of the sister, that her sister did not commit suicide because it took our entire family by surprise.
KELLYYou know, I could very much see myself just completely -- you know, had she not lived and we knew it was a suicide, I would've very much been in the same position. I'm just -- I can't believe it and so, it's a hard thing, especially because we are -- we're physically separated across the nation, not across the ocean and so it just -- to talk about that conviction that her sister didn't commit suicide when, I mean, I've experienced the opposite.
LUPTONYes. I think in the story I tell that their older sister just doesn't want to believe it's suicide and the reader sometimes thinks, is she right? You know, she is proved right, but it's actually her way of coping for quite a lot of the time.
LUPTONFor them, they had a little brother who died of cystic fibrosis and she knows that because he fought for life so hard, it would've been very, very difficult for her sister to have committed suicide, so that's where her kind of conviction comes from. But ultimately, it's a leap of faith and I think the reader will think, but was she right, you know? Even though at the end, that she's proved right, so I understand exactly where you're coming from.
REHMAnd to Kelly, the idea that her sister would try to commit suicide is clearly something that's hard to accept.
LUPTONIncredibly painful and hard, yes. I'm not sure that the mother in my story would rather it was suicide than murder. I mean, it's a terrible lesser of two evils.
LUPTONBecause she doesn't want her daughter to have felt any fear, so she's saying, I would rather it was suicide. So it's a very difficult family dynamic there. But yes, it's a terrible situation whichever way you look at it. I'm not sure if I would believe it was suicide if my sister did that. I don't know if you can ever be as certain as Beatrice is in my book and I think she's a certain type of character that can be that certain.
REHMThere's also a certain amount of guilt on Beatrice's part because she did not return a telephone call.
LUPTONYes. And she knows if she'd returned that call, her sister would be alive and the guilt is huge and I think it's guilt as much as anything that drives her to find out what really happened. She feels she owes her sister that.
REHMWould you read for us again?
LUPTONYeah. I'll read actually this -- where she's discovered about the phone call, actually. It's a good moment to talk about that. "There was a flipside to the guilt. You had looked to me for help. We were close, I did know you and therefore I could absolutely confident in my conviction that you didn't kill yourself. Had my confidence ever wavered, a little, when I thought you hadn't told me about your baby, when I thought you hadn't turned to me for help when you were frightened, then I questioned our closeness and wondered if I really knew you after all."
LUPTONThen quietly, privately, I also wondered, did you really value life too highly to end it? Your phone calls meant that the answer, however painfully obtained, was an unequivocal yes." Now, she's talking to the criminal prosecution service again. "The next morning, I woke up so early, it was still night. I thought about taking one of the sleeping pills to escape from guilt now as much as grief, but I couldn't be that cowardly.
LUPTONCareful not to wake Todd, I got out of bed and went outside hoping for escape from my own thoughts or at least some kind of distraction from them. When I opened the front door, I saw Amius (sp?) putting carrier bags on your pots using a flashlight. He must've seen me illuminated in the doorway. 'Some of them blew off in the night,' he said, 'So I need to get them put back again before too much damage is done.' I thought about him recently, planting daffodil bulbs in the freezing earth. From the beginning, the bulbs never stood a chance.
LUPTONNot wanting to upset him, but not wanting to give him false platitudes about the efficacy of his carrier bag greenhouse, I changed the subject. 'It's so quiet at this time of the morning, isn't it?' 'You wait 'til spring, then it's a racket out here.' I must've looked confused because he explained, 'The "Dawn Chorus." Not sure why the birds like this street particularly, but for some reason, best known to themselves, they do.'
LUPTON'I've never really understood what the "Dawn Chorus" was about, actually,' keeping the conversation going to humor him or to avoid my thoughts. 'Their songs are to attract a mate and to find territories,' replied Amius. 'A shame humans can't take the musical approach to that, isn't it?' 'Yes.' 'Do you know they have an order,' he asked?
LUPTON'First blackbirds, then robins, wrens, chaffinches, warblers, song thrushes, there used to be a nightingale, too.' As he told me about the "Dawn Chorus," I knew that I would find the person who had murdered you. 'Did you know there's a single nightingale can sing up to 300 love songs?' That was my singled-minded focused destination.
LUPTONThere was no more time for the detour of a guilt trip. A musician slowed down the skylark's song and find it's close to "Beethoven's 5th Symphony." I owed it to you even more than before to win you some kind of justice. As Amius continued telling me about the musical miracles within the "Dawn Chorus," I wondered if he knew how comforting I found it and thought that he probably did.
LUPTONHe was letting me think, but not on my own and was giving me a soothing score to bleak emotion. In the darkness, I tried to hear a bird singing, but there was nothing. And in the silence in the dark, it was hard to imagine a bright spring dawn filled with birdsong."
REHMLovely passage and especially in regard to those yellow flowers that Amius is planting with the absolute conviction that they will come up and we should say that Amius is Tessa's landlord...
REHM...who lives upset and is so kind to Beatrice.
LUPTONYes. He's an elderly, elderly man with a very old-fashioned kind of courtesy and he's planting daffodils for her, which Beatrice thinks is mad 'cause the soil's too cold, but what she discovers at the end is he's poured in hot water and mixed that up with the soil so the daffodils will grow.
REHMAnd let's go to Wichita, Kan. Joanna, you're on the air.
JOANNAGood morning. Like many of the other listeners, I share a lot of parallels with this story and it has touched me deeply. I am the younger free-spirited sister. The older sister is the corporate executive and we have a bond that cannot be broken.
JOANNAWe watched a younger brother with cystic fibrosis at the age of nine, at a time when cystic fibrosis was hardly known, even in the medical community. And we have an older sister who committed suicide because of health reasons. And my comment is this, having watched the suffering of that little boy and watched the suffering of my parents, I would commit suicide before I would do that to another child.
JOANNAThe sister who committed suicide was deemed an investigatable death. We got phone calls at 4:00 in the morning, the night after I had graduated from university. Excuse me. And it was a suicide, a very well-planned suicide, to avoid the horrible medical complications, but that was much less unsettling to us.
JOANNAIn fact, it wasn't unsettling at all. Having thought that maybe she had been murdered in her own bed would've horrid. I myself found myself pregnant after having been on the pill. I tried to try to prevent the pregnancy and I had to decide on what I thought might be pain of my immortal soul if I was going to have that child and risk that kind of disease for a child and I decided if it cost me my immortal soul, I would not do that to a child. So I -- I think that many times, suicide might be the more comforting thing. That's my comment.
REHMJoanna, thanks for your call. What sadness.
LUPTONDesperate sadness, yes. I mean, it's something I've only imagined, so I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like to have suffered all of that and I hear completely what you're saying about suicide.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And finally to Eastford, Conn. Ray, you're on the air.
RAYHello, Diane. Thank you for letting me on. I'm nurse and as such I've seen a multitude of death and suffering as well as in my personal life. I've had what I would consider my soul mate, over time, slowly descend into the -- an intractable insanity and commit suicide. And every death is different and every life as it is, but to have been that close to somebody to see inexorably come and the strangest part of it was, you know, I was literally brought to my knees with the surprise, although it was not a surprise, with the finality of it.
RAYAnd to have lost somebody that close to me. But ultimately, over time, the healing does come and my belief now about spiritual matters is that, you know, these are entities that come and go to different realms, you know, and there's another person in the spirit world that I'm connected with.
REHMAnd in the end, Beatrice feels very much the same way.
LUPTONAbsolutely. And she actually says, I'm bereaved, but not diminished by your death (unintelligible).
REHMAnd at the end, Beatrice says she finally understood the sacrament of the present moment. What does she mean?
LUPTONShe means that where Tess understood the sacrament of the present moment, which is to live your life right now for how it is now and to be burdened by the past or anxious about the future. And that her present moment includes her sister, even though her sister is dead, her sister is very much still part of the present moment and part of her, so she feels that the loss -- the sense of loss is changed by the end of the book.
REHMAnd it's also interesting because Beatrice decides she will not leave her mother. She will stay there in London.
REHMWhere her mother is.
LUPTONYes. She's discovered real -- it's just a sense of duty, but she really loves her mother. I think she's discovered a bond with her that wasn't there before.
REHMRosamund Lupton and the book we've been talking about, her very first novel, which has risen to the top of the bestseller list is titled, "Sister." Congratulations.
LUPTONThank you very much, Diane. Thank you.
REHMAnd thanks for being here. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This NPR.
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