A letter from Mick to Betsy

01.02. 2011

Dear Betsy,

I’m writing you this letter in a rare moment of clarity. As you well know, these don’t come so often these days. It’s a bit like trying to listen to the radio in the car when the reception’s bad. All those precious memories just flicker on and off.

I hope you’ll actually get to read this.

It’s possible I will put it down somewhere and the fog will descend. I’ll forget I even wrote it, and that will be that.

Still, if that happens, I’m sure you’ll find it one quiet weekday afternoon, just like you still find the remains of the cheese and pickle sandwiches I leave behind the bookshelves sometimes. I’m sorry about that, I know it makes you cross.

Perhaps you’ll uncover this letter, long after I’m gone and you’re moving house. You will have removed the curtains and the blinds, light will pour through the kitchen windows and you’ll spot it, taped to the back of the fridge. You’ll make a cup of tea, and you’ll sit down read it, and you’ll be reminded of just how much I loved you.

I hope you’ll feel free, and happy when I’m gone. I’d never want you to be sad.

Do you feel free, Betsy?

When we married all those years ago, the vicar was droning on, reading this and that from the bible and I didn’t half start to zone out, love. I remember you squeezing my hands and giving me a look and so I tried harder to listen.

He went on to say some nice things about being together for the rest of our lives, in health and sickness, for better and for worse. Do you remember? I know we were all just desperate to get to the pub for a good old knees up.

We were so young then. We half listened, and wholly agreed. We made those promises in front of our family and friends, but they never meant too much until recently.

I was a healthy, young lad back then – ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’ my father used to say. But look at me now. I’m a mere sliver of what I used to be. Many of my best qualities have fled, one by one like thieves out the back door – taking parts of me and hoping we wouldn’t notice.

I wonder sometimes… if you knew of all that you’d have to handle, with this horrible illness, would you have still gone through with it?

I’m sure you would. I’d like to think you would. I can’t see you having walked away, leaving me standing there by the altar, my heart exploding with love.

Thank you for everything. For not just seeing me as my illness, and looking past all that to the man you fell in love with all those years ago. I couldn’t have asked for a better wife. You, with all your kindness and patience, you’ve never let me down once.

Sometimes, when I look at you and I can’t quite place your name, it feels like my heart is breaking. A smudge appears, more fragments slip away and memories are gone forever, like in iceberg slipping into the sea. You and I become shards of broken glass. A puzzle I cannot piece together.

But when the focus comes back, so do technicolour souvenirs of the happiest days of our life, and it’s glorious. I’ll never forget when Jake was born, and how peaceful he looked as he slept. We leant over his cot in the darkness, looked up at each other and smiled, your hand in mine. When that happens, when those memories return, I cannot feel sad about how things turned out.

How can I feel sad Betsy Bruce, when I’ve been able to love you every day for the past fifty or so years?

I hope you’ll feel free and happy when I’m gone.

I hope you go into town whenever you can, and eat great slabs of your favourite cake (is it carrot? I’m sorry, it’s happening again and I can’t remember…) in that café you love so much. I hope you spend hours in the library leafing through the books, and walk in the park when the sun shines.

Do you feel free Betsy?

Yours, always and forever,

Your husband Mick





The Blurb

‘The moon was speckled like a bird’s egg. It hung reliably in the blackness above Will Turnbull and Nessa Grier who sat side by side on a bench as the leaves fell around them, landing softly on the thick, wet grass. Their knees were just touching, hearts pounding hard.’

Nessa Bruce waits for her husband to come through the double doors. She’d waited for him to return home from Afghanistan for what felt like forever, and now the moment was finally here. But Jake isn’t…Jake Bruce hasn’t come home, and it looks like he never will.

Nessa’s life – and that of her daughter Poppy – is turned upside down in an instant. What has happened to the elusive man at the centre of their world? They hold onto the hopes that he is still out there somewhere, alive…but as time passes by, Nessa is forced to look at her life, at the decisions she has made and the secrets she has kept. For maybe somewhere within it all lies the answer to the question she’s desperate to answer – where is the man she loves?

The Waiting Game is perfect for reading groups with lots of twists and turns, and big topics such as mental illness, discussed in a fresh and sensitive way.

The Review

I love a lot of writers’ work; it kind of helps when you write a lot of reviews. There is one writer whose work I get genuinely excited about and that is Jessica Thompson. I eagerly await copies of her books when she releases new material and I’m not ashamed to admit that they are usually devoured in one sitting. I’m happy to say that Jessica Thompson did not disappoint with her latest novel – The Waiting Game.

The novel centres on the life of Nessa Grier – mid-thirties, mum to a demonic teenager, practically a single parent with her husband off in Afghanistan. She is barely holding it together but her life starts to fall apart when her husband doesn’t return home.

Left to pick up the pieces of her life Nessa Grier really starts to crumble and it is only with the help of those close to her that she starts to pull her life together again. Unfortunately, life and death just aren’t that easy.

What I loved about The Waiting Game is the sheer plausibility of it. Thompson deals with heartbreaking situations – in particular mental health issues – with delicacy and heart. She gives us a glimpse at both sides of the spectrum from those who suffer mental health issues to those who are dealing with loved ones who bear the weight of the condition. It is a balanced and fair portrayal.

Thompson easily displays Nessa’s frustration, especially with her daughter’s behaviour, as she battles to maintain control. You get angry with Nessa, you feel her hurt and you hope against hope that things get better for her.

If I had to say that there was anything that I didn’t like about The Waiting Game it would actually be a more personal opinion about the love story thread rather than a fact about the writing. I felt conflicted about who I was rooting for in the novel. I wanted to root for everybody but it wasn’t possible that the story would work that way; I realise that this sounds very cryptic but when you read the novel you will hopefully understand. I think if Thompson had tried to change the love story thread throughout the novel she would have made Nessa seem callous and ended up alienating her to the audience. Therefore, I can understand why it had to be written in this way…but admittedly this did still leave me feeling conflict.

Once again I have been enchanted and swept away by Jessica Thompson’s amazing and beautiful storytelling abilities. Read The Waiting Game people; it is stunning.

The Waiting Game by Jessica Thompson is available now.

Follow Jessica Thompson (@JThompsonAuthor) via Twitter.

The Waiting Game