Many will be familiar with the song ‘Starry Starry Night’ by Don McLean, an American folksinger and songwriter. Every time I listen to this song, I feel tremendous sadness. That got me thinking about authors as well. What did they go through while writing their novels, physically or emotionally?
The American author Laura Hillenbrand fell ill in college with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome while writing two books: the excellent Seabiscuit: An American Legend (also made into a feature film with Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges) and Unbroken. According to Heinrich Bolton (manybooks.net) her condition left her unable to complete her degree and she rarely left the house. She is still ill, but started to ride horses and bicycles again.
The author of Post Office, Charles Bukowski, moved with his family to America in the 1920s. He had a strong German accent, and along with the clothes he was forced to wear by his parents, he was taunted regularly by other children. He also suffered regular beatings with a razor strop from his father. To make matters worse, he had extreme acne during his teenage years. Bukowski almost died from a bleeding ulcer and a suicide with a gas stove before he started to get the recognition he so much deserved!
The Brazilian author, Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist), also had it tough. He was 17 years old when his parents committed him to a mental asylum. Coelho escaped three times and was eventually released after three years. He eventually enrolled in law school to please his parents. After a year he dropped out and started to use drugs. After a spiritual awakening, his life changed.
Jean-Dominique Bauby, author of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and editor of ELLE, the popular fashion magazine, had a massive stroke when he was 43 years old. He was in a coma for 20 days, but was left completely paralyzed, except for the ability to blink his left eyelid. He wrote his book, one letter at a time, by blinking at an assistant reciting the alphabet over and over. Sadly, Bauby fell ill and two days after the publication of the book in 1997, he died of pneumonia.
When J.K. Rowling (best-selling author of the Harry Potter fantasy series) was a teenager, her mother fell ill with multiple sclerosis. She died ten years later, while Rowling was writing her first book. White writing Harry Potter, she got married, had a miscarriage, suffered from alleged domestic abuse and ended up separating from her husband. Without a job and having to care for an infant, she became clinically depressed and was forced to sign up for welfare benefits. She also contemplated suicide.