Falling apart again, never wanted to…
It was when the Independent lost its best columnist Christina Patterson that I knew I no longer felt at home at the paper.
By ‘lost’, I mean ‘fired’.
Christina had been there for ten years and at the time was writing two columns a week plus an interview or profile. For me, a freelance Independent columnist and reader, she came to exemplify what it was about the paper that that made it different from its rivals.
She was, and is, an independent spirit – her own woman in every word she writes. While her personal voice and experience resonates through her pieces she avoids, unlike many other columnists, obstructing the view by plonking herself centre-stage. Another unusual thing: she is never politically predictable. Reading her Independent articles, one had a sense of a person, a kindred spirit, thinking aloud, rather than haranguing. And her prose is clear, funny, and heartfelt.
God knows why she was ‘let go’. As described in her forthcoming book The Art of Not Falling Apart, she had an agreement with the Independent, and its management broke it. When she wanted to know why, and refused to slink away miserably in the manner they expected, it all became very nasty.
Even today, I find the stupidity, the petty vindictiveness, of that decision difficult to understand. Not only had Christina worked hard for ten years, she had become a great favourite with readers. A series of articles she wrote about nursing was nominated for George Orwell Prize. And (not a minor point) at the moment she was fired, she was recovering from cancer.
In retrospect, I can see that the signs of change at the Independent had been there for a while. Somewhere along the line , the newspaper that had once prided itself, with justification, on its liberal values, on being writer-led and issues-based rather following market or political trends, had mysteriously lost its soul. Even I who, despite writing columns for them every week since 1998, had never visited the office, could tell that there was something different about the atmosphere, the tone of one’s dealings.
It was becoming corporate, mean-spirited and, most weirdly of all, laddish. Of those who lost their jobs, a disproportionate number were female and talented.
I was reminded of all this while reading an early copy of The Art of Not Falling Apart. In many ways, it is an odd book. It looks and sounds like a self-help book, but it is too personal and impassioned to be that. Contemporary pieties are cheerfully overturned. Anger is an energy, Christina argues at one point, and there’s a lot to be said for negative thinking when it is combined with strength and optimism of the will.
Christina has had more than her share of tragedy and misfortune – in her family, with her health, at work – and, while trying to battle on after these setbacks, found the advice that is commonly handed out by experts rather less than helpful. For this book, she has talked to those who have been, as the tabloids put it, ‘to hell and back’. She has explored how they have coped in the grimmest, most miserable of circumstances.
The book is a celebration of the human spirit, of kindness and fortitude. It is life-affirming and defiant. Beyond the stories and first-hand accounts, there is positive, sensible advice for all of us. It’s terrific – moving, wise and funny – and marks an exciting new phase in the career of Christina Patterson.
I can’t wait for her next book and, in the meantime, I heartily recommend this one.