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Richard Von Hippel has written a memoir with a woman whose very difficult life experiences--and fight for recovery-- he has found singularly inspirational.  Iris Ann Cullimore is the subject and co-author of Not again!  Here Richard shares some of the back story of their inspirational
collaborative memoir:
  
Pam to Richard:  Was there a specific moment when you knew you would write a memoir with Iris?  Please describe what that was like.
 
Richard to Pam:  Like most things in my life, writing a memoir with Iris was more of an accidental/ coincidental process. I’d only ever met one other person in my entire life with the raw courage and determination of Iris and I’d thought for a long time that her story ‘deserved’ to be told, if only for its inspirational value. But I never thought for a moment that I would be the one to help her write it, until a few weeks after I received a phone call ‘out of the blue’.
 
The caller was an old school friend of mine who’d been trying to catch up with me for 47 years. He’d finally caught up with me on the exact anniversary of the last time we’d seen each other.He still met regularly with several of our old classmates and our subsequent emails revealed he worked as a freelance journalist for an Irish newspaper in Philadelphia, as well as being a poet and Editor.
 
Strangely, during that very first phone call and in all the subsequent emails he kept remarking on how well everyone remembered my writing from school and how convinced he was I ‘had a book in me’, which I didn’t take seriously, at first.
 
Pam to Richard:  How did you know you were going to do it? 
 
Richard to Pam:  The more I thought on my old school friend’s claims that I could write, the more I realised that if anyone was going to step forward and write Iris’s memoir, with her, it would have to be me – and the rest is history!
 
 
Pam to Richard:  What kept you working on it when the going got rough?
 
Richard to Pam:  There is nothing related to Iris that is not a challenge! Disaster seems to walk one close step behind her – hence the title Not Again. However she is something of an enigma, insofar as that anyone who ever works with her never quits. Perhaps it is the admiration we all have for her fighting spirit. Perhaps she’s just been ‘sent’ to test us all! Whatever her ‘secret weapon’ no one of any worth ever gives up on her.
 
Even the hospital Consultants and Specialists who have treated her, along with their Secretaries become such good friends she can bypass the system and ring them direct – there is no referral and no waiting –if they can’t do it, they always know someone who can.
    
Pam to Richard:  You have had several roles in bringing Not Again! to publication.  How did you balance the roles of healer, therapist and ghost writer/ storyteller to bring Iris' story to us in the form of a book? 
 

Richard to Pam:  Perhaps the easiest, though not the most enlightening answer to this question is that Iris is just Iris, treating her is just treating her, and writing her story is just writing her story, in the same way that night and day or the Seasons are what they are. You just dress differently and get on with it, without thinking about balance.
  
All my stroke survivors are treated in their own home, I never charge any stroke survivor full price and I never set a time limit for their treatment. If they have emotional issues, we address them. If they just want a laugh, a joke and a cup of coffee, we have one. Apart from the fact that Iris was one of my first case studies in stroke treatment, and I’ve treated her free of charge ever since, all I did was add a Dictaphone to her treatments. Then, apart from getting her to clarify events, places, people and situations I just let her tell her story, over many days and many cups of coffee.
 
The only real problems we had were that she often ‘got ahead of herself’ - in her own words - and then I had to re-write the affected Chapters. But when you consider how often I’ve had to repair her, after yet another mishap, I suppose that’s just par for the course!
 
Pam to Richard:  The instinct of curiosity that drives us to peer into some of the most devastating moments of another person's life. . . the reader's motivation: does your experience tell you that it's a positive thing, a negative thing?
 
Richard to Pam:  I believe that knowing the realities of life, through other people’s experiences is an essential part of eventually attaining true civilisation, as a species. All aspects of today’s society have become so sanitised that nothing outside our own, personal lives is ‘real’, any more.
 
When we lived in small and ‘nosey’ communities we saw grief, pain, joy and celebration on an intimate level, and so we learned to feel and empathise. Today, our lives are more remote from each other than if we lived in another dimension, or galaxy. Thus, the memoirs of ‘ordinary’ people are essential, if we are to fully realise what goes on in the world we live in, which is the only way to change. 
  
Pam to Richard:  Clearly you are a very sensitive, ethical person yourself. What personal values do you apply to the delicate process of exposing these vulnerable memories?
 
Richard to Pam:  I must admit that I was surprised by some of what Iris was prepared to publicly reveal, but apart from asking her “are you sure you want to make this public?” I never questioned her, or her motives.
 
After all, it will always be her story, and it will always be her right to tell it how she wants, for whatever reason she wants to tell it. 
  
Pam to Richard:  What in your life experience led you to believe you were the person to write Iris' memoir?

Richard to Pam:  Being a therapist, and not being a woman!  Before I even began to learn the psychological/emotional therapies I fully understood the principle that: “We are, all of us, unique individuals, fashioned in our own way, by our own unique circumstances, experienced in their own unique way”. That, together with my not being a woman meant I had no way of transferring my emotions to her experiences, which essentially meant I couldn’t put my own ‘spin’ on her story. This is why NOT AGAIN is exclusively Iris, through and through. Only the language with which events are recounted comes from outside of Iris.

Pam to Richard:   What do you intend this memoir to accomplish in the minds or hearts of  readers?  
  
 Richard to Pam:  My greatest hope is that by showing the reader the true strength and resilience of the human spirit, as demonstrated by Iris, it will also give them the strength and courage to rise above their own adversity, and to fight even harder.
 
Click here for Richard's website:   http://memoirsonly.com/

 


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