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All That I Forgot

Paperback out now

All That I Forgot a memoir by Anne Howell about waking from a coma with amnesia

All That I Forgot

In 1991 I woke from a coma with amnesia, thinking the hospital room I lay in might be a spaceship. This had a certain logic as I thought I was about eight or nine years old. Yet I turned out to be a mother with a young child. Once taken home by a man I didn’t remember to raise our daughter, who seemed strikingly at first impression like a hairless monkey, I began to investigate my missing past. I would face walls thrown up before me, many by those closest to me. People were clearly withholding salient facts, but why? I explore the fallibility of memory, family and friendship under duress, plus violence towards women and girls in the leafy suburbs of Sydney’s north shore in the 70s.

Buy from Bad Apple Press

All That I Forgot has been picked up by independent niche memoir publisher Bad Apple Press. I am grateful to be published with this outfit that supports the genre and is author-focused.

Thanks to Samantha Miles, the co-founder and publishing manager and Sonya Danaher, co-founder, marketing and sales manager, plus the team at Bad Apple Press for taking my book on. I look forward to working with you.

Real or confabulation

All That I Forgot deals with what it’s like to have amnesia in real life, yet what was really going on, in my early recovery process was not always easy to determine. After my discharge from the hospital and once back in the place I was told was home, one time I was startled awake in the middle of the night convinced there were tigers under the bed. Wild tigers which I knew were chasing one another down by the bedposts. I have a scene in the book representing my eventual humbling, when I realised there were no such tigers, just my mind playing tricks on me.

I have since learned that the mind, in the early stages of recovering from amnesia, can do what doctors refer to as ‘confabulate’. Devoid of memories, with the inability to retrieve them, the mind of an amnesiac develops a tendency to invent, to fill in gaps and empty spaces. So waking hallucinations are part of the experience.

I didn’t so much explain such aspects of retrograde amnesia to readers as show people what it was like to be me during that time of profound not-knowing. For me, amnesia meant I had lost aspects of language and some basic concepts too.

The writing process

Anne Howell writer working on her laptop

I decided from the start to write from the point of view of that moment of waking up. A moment that until I wrote the book, I had been thinking about most days. Once begun, the question soon became: How can I pull this off and not confuse and bore the reader? To both take you as a reader with me, and be authentic to the convoluted and confusing experience, has been a challenge. At times as I wrote, it occurred to me I could create a much more experimental book and still not convey the very sense of alienation, randomness and the sheer nightmare that it was at the time. Maybe one day I will attempt this other, darker, more abstract work.

All That I Forgot offers clear prose ad a focus on the interactions between myself as an amnesiac and those around me. I am excited about putting it out there, this work that draws on an experience that ultimately isolated me, not just from the past, but from the broader world for many years. I don’t think people realise to what extent amnesia in life is actually very much a disability, nothing like its often glamorous depiction in literature and celluloid.