Today it’s my turn on the BlogTour for Hello, My Name is May by Rosalind Stopps. It’s psychological suspense, women’s fiction and contemporary fiction.
About the Author
Rosalind Stopps has always wanted to tell the stories of the less heard. For many years she worked with children with disabilities and their families.
She has five grown up children, three grandchildren and an MA in creative writing from Lancaster University. Rosalind’s short stories have been published in five anthologies and read at live literature events in London, Leeds, Hong Kong and New York. She lives in South East London with large numbers of humans and dogs.
When she is not writing fiction she is, mostly, reading it or working as a host at London’s South Bank Arts Centre. Hello, My Name is May is her debut novel.
Buy Hello, My Name is May
About the book
They wrote it on the wall above my bed. Hello, it said, my name is May. Please talk to me.
May has been moved to a care home after her stroke. She can’t communicate, all her words are kept inside. If she tries to point, her arms swing in wild directions, if she tries to talk, strange noises come out of her mouth.
May is sharp, quick, and funny, but only her daughter Jenny sees this, and Jackie, a new friend at the home who cares enough to look and listen closely.
When May discovers that someone very familiar, from long ago, is living in the room opposite hers she is haunted by scenes from her earlier life, when she was a prisoner of her husband’s unpredictable rages. Bill, the man in the opposite room seems so much like her husband, though almost a lifetime has passed, and May’s eyesight isn’t what it was.
As Bill charms his way through the nursing home, he focuses his romantic attention on Jackie, while all May can do is watch. She is determined to protect Jackie and keep herself safe, but what can she do in her vulnerable, silent state?
Before we get down to business (i.e. talking about your book) I would like to ask a set of questions I call ‘Breaking the Ice.’
The last book you read? (Inquisitive bookworms would like to know) I’ve been reading Middlemarch for absolutely weeks. I love it, but I so want to finish and move on – next I can’t wait to read Jill Dawson’s new book, The Language of Birds, which tells the story of the nanny who was killed by Lord Lucan, a famous case from the 70s.
The actual last book I read was Normal People by Sally Rooney, which I thought was wonderful, marvellous and moving.
The last movie you watched, which you felt left a mark (in your heart, soul, wallet…you name it)? Wild Rose. I saw it last week and I loved it. The music was gorgeous, the acting was great and the story, which is always my prime concern, was a feelgood tale of triumph over adversity. A good night out.
Writers or books who have inspired you to put pen to paper? Stephen King, always. Elizabeth Strout and Ann Tyler because they tell the stories of ordinary women.
Which famous person (dead, alive, barely kicking) would you most like to meet? This is such a difficult question! Everyone I think of makes me feel either prim or shallow! But the true answer is, without a doubt, that I’d like to meet Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe, who was once the lodger of a local friend of mine. She’s been in prison in Iran for three years after going there on holiday with her little girl to see her parents. She’s unwell and is being held hostage, and I’d love to meet her because it would mean that she had been released, and that there was a happy ever after ending to her story.
Also I’d like to ask her how she coped with being locked up for three years. Human bravery in extreme circumstances has always interested me.
A famous declutterer a la Marie Kondo has decided to help you organise your home – you have to get rid of all but three of your books (the ones you have written yourself are exempt) which three would you pick and why? Good idea. I wish this would happen in real life. There are books everywhere in my house and I’d love to keep them electronically only. I’d save a book of Flannery O’Connor short stories, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and maybe a massive book with pictures of every kind of dog, in case I ever haven’t got a dog with me.
All of the above questions are actually a pretty elaborate pysch evaluation disguised as random questions. Have no fear here come the real ones. Let’s talk about Hello, My Name is May.
I really enjoyed the same woman in two different periods of her life and the way you show the readers the invisible scars and damage left by abuse.
Tell us about the inspiration for this story. My sister had a brain haemorrhage when she was sixty. She’s not May, she never lost her voice, but she does live in a nursing home now and one day when I was visiting her we chatted about how we could see into the room across the corridor. ‘Wouldn’t it be weird,’ I said, ‘if someone from your past turned up, but someone you didn’t want to see.’
It’s the kind of thing I’ve always done, made up stories about what I can see around me. But the idea was there and I couldn’t stop thinking about what might happen.
I also wanted to write about domestic abuse, because it’s an area of life that’s still often hidden away. Nothing seems to have changed too much since I was a young woman, despite the better training of police and the women’s movement. In fact, lots of the hostels that were opened have been closed for lack of funding.
How important was it to show that the abuse people endure leaves invisible damage, the kind of damage that determines other relationships and future reactions to situations and other people? I believe that everything that happens to us stays with us in some form. We can learn to deal with it but it’s there, and although it doesn’t have to define us it’s a part of us. I wanted to show that by showing how May’s response to her situation was totally bound up with the things that had happened to her when she was young. She is fiercely protective of her new friend Jackie, and she wants more than anything to protect her from harm. She’s spent her life protecting herself from further harm, and she wants to look out for her new friend as well.
Another important aspect of the story is the helplessness May feels because of her medical situation and being unable to communicate. Do you think the feeling of helplessness triggers the memories and paranoia? I think you don’t have to be in such an extreme situation as May to experience the feeling of helplessness and panic she describes. Most people can relate to a time when they weren’t listened to, or taken seriously, and May has that feeling, justifiably, all the time. It’s bound to take her back to the other time in her life when she didn’t have a voice that was heard, and when she lived with the constant threat of danger.
I found it quite interesting that nothing is black or white when it comes to May. She is both victim and simultaneously not completely innocent. Was this a contrast you wanted the reader to experience? I’ve always loved unreliable narrators and flawed heroes. I think they are far more realistic. Isn’t May like all of us, a mixture of saint and sinner? I wanted the reader to be slightly unsure, to care for May without knowing quite whether to trust her or not.
Is May so concerned about Jackie because of her own past and Helen? Definitely! May didn’t manage to protect Helen but she’s not going to let another chance of protecting a friend slip away.
The reader can feel the frustration and fear May feels throughout the story, how important was it to be able convey those emotions accurately? I guess that’s the mark of a good storyteller – the one who can make you shiver when it’s warm and see shadows even when it’s bright sunlight. I wanted to share how May thinks about the world with my readers, let them really hear her voice. I so hope I’ve done that.
Thank you answering all of my questions, even the odd ones. Not odd at all, but really interesting. The hardest one, surprisingly, was which person I’d most like to meet. My granddaughter is studying like mad for GCSEs at the moment and I felt as though I was taking an exam too – I really enjoyed it!
Imagine yourself bound by the limitations of your own body and consigned to a care home. Being eager to communicate, but unable to do so. May spends a lot of time inside her head with herself, and memories that have been brought to the surface by certain people in the home.
May, or Stopps, takes us back into another time in her life when she thought she had a voice, but in actual fact she didn’t. Her voice was being silenced by someone with a cruel streak and lack of compassion.
The physical damage of abuse heals, well at least the non-permanent damage does, but the emotional damage and the inner scarring never disappears. It’s always there like a haunting presence in the back of your mind, influencing relationships, emotions and actions.
The juxtaposition of her status as a victim and simultaneously as the perpetrator is quite intriguing. It also makes it difficult to put this read into a specific genre. It’s psychological suspense, women’s fiction and contemporary fiction. May is the voiceless victim of an overladen system, but somewhere deep inside lives the woman she used to be. The woman who knows the taste, smell and looks of an abuser, because her life was defined and controlled by one.
It’s all about wanting to be heard. May spent so many years hiding the truth that she no longer wants to be silent. It’s about protecting those who cannot see what is right before their eyes. How do you do that when you can’t warn anyone and your body has become your enemy?
I like the way Stopps keeps the reader on uncertain ground, which means she can slip the real intention by on the sly.