Good Reading : April 2015
GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING APRIL 2015 28 ‘I remember getting really still – and goosebumps – and thinking I just witnessed a historic moment in science, and they are going to cure this disease. And 22 years later we have no treatment and no cure.’ An ‘orphan disease’ is a disorder that hasn’t been the focus of the efforts of the pharmaceutical industry because of little financial incentive to find a treatment or cure. About five million people in America have Alzheimer’s disease, but only 300 00 Americans have HD, so it’s clear which of these two conditions is the orphan disease that’s going to be neglected by researchers. ‘There hasn’t been a lot of urgent attention on Huntington’s, yet it’s been called the most curable incurable disease we know of because it has only one cause, and we’ve isolated it.’ Lisa set Inside the O’Briens in Charlestown as a nod to those groundbreaking neuroscientists where she worked. The setting, she says, is a significant aspect of all her novels. ‘In Love Anthony, I wrote about autism, a condition that isolates the person that has it and the family of that person, and I set it on Nantucket, an island off the coast of Massachusetts that is quite isolated. And for Still Alice, I made her a Harvard professor, so that when she starts to show very public errors in her language, memory and cognition in a place that may not tolerate such a thing, then where does she belong if she can no longer be that?’ Lisa decided Joe O’Brien would be a police officer after considering what HD would be like for a man who usually has a badge, gun, bulletproof vest and fellow officers to help him be brave in the most frightening situations. As Lisa’s first male protagonist, Joe also was a lot of fun to write: ‘I realised fairly early on that wr iting from the point of view of a man, who was a police officer from a blue-collar neighbourhood, you don’t have to be polite about anything,’ she laughs. Lisa’s working life sounds close to idyllic, as she strives to fit her writing and other commitments around the needs of her three children, aged 14, seven and four. With too many potential distractions at home, she drops the kids at school then heads to her local Starbucks. ‘I’m so excited to get back to my daily writing habits after all the hoopla of late. I go to Starbucks, where there are no excuses, and I sit at the same rickety little table that is not comfortable at all, and I usually start with a notebook and a pen and I’ll wr ite for about three pages and it’s just unedited stream-of-consciousness – getting all the junk out of my head first. ‘I write down a lot that probably doesn’t work, but I usually find the thread that gets me in, and I switch from the notebook to my laptop and I start wr iting. I typically write in the mornings, and I almost always stop at noon to go to yoga, and then the afternoons belong to my kids.’ Although Lisa was unable to travel to Australia for the opening of the film version of Still Alice earlier this year, she hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a promotional trip for Inside the O’Briens. She is also just starting research for her next novel, which will be about ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease), known in Australia as motor neurone disease. ‘If I knew more that I was certain about, I would tell you, but it’s in the embryonic stage and I don’t have enough yet. I love what I do, and I’m excited to be able to roll up my sleeves and begin again – to discover what the story will be.’ Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova is published by Simon & Schuster, rrp $29.99. COVER STORY 'I could see these neuroscientists celebrating and cheering and hugging each other and that's very unusual behaviour for neuroscientists'