The Book That Changed My Life

The Book That Changed My Life: Hattie Edmonds Picks Testimony of Light by Helen Greaves

Mrs Kanji

The book that changed my life is definitely not one that I would ever have picked up, unless someone had thrust it into my hand and ordered me in a very threatening voice to read it. As it happened, it was Mrs Kanji, a delightful 84 year old housebound woman who gave me Testimony of Light, and although she could be quite feisty, she wasn’t really the threatening kind.

Hmmm, I thought as I stuffed it into my bag at the end of my weekly visit. I’ll give it a quick skim then I’ll just pretend to her that I’ve read it.

I should point out here that as a lightweight Buddhist (ie I like the philosophy but I’m too lazy to do anything about it), anything with a Christian leaning – and this book clearly had one – wouldn’t be on my wish list.

But as soon as I begrudgingly read that first page, something clicked. Mrs Kanji was right – the premise was indeed intriguing. A true life story of a woman with terminal cancer, who promises her best friend Helen that she will somehow get in touch with her after her death and describe what is happening.

I flicked through a few more pages and read how shortly after Frances’s funeral, Helen felt the ‘presence’ of her friend, along with certain words and phrases that started popping into her head, all with the trademark intonation of her friend. This continued for a few days and after a little practice, Helen was able to ‘take the dictation’. From that came Testimony of Light.

By this stage I didn’t give a stuff that the book was written by a Christian nun. I was hooked by the down-to-earth, detailed account of what happens (according to Frances, at least) when we die. For me, one of the most fascinating parts was Frances’s description of being shown a film of her life, during which she re-experienced the whole cycle of her years on earth as a ‘kaleidoscopic series of pictures’. Equally fascinating was the fact that she also got to watch the ‘blueprint film’ of her life – i.e what her soul had set out to do on earth.

At the time I was writing for a pop magazine, interviewing an endless stream of boy bands with questions about what hair products they used and where they bought their clothes. Was that what my soul had set out to do?

Six weeks after reading the book, I started to volunteer at Comic Relief for one afternoon a week. Five months later, I was asked to be the in-house writer there. Part of my job was to come up with funny stuff – and I was lucky enough to work on projects with amongst others, Richard Curtis, Armando Iannucci and Sacha Baron Cohen. But I also was privileged to interview some extraordinary people including Rwandan widows and child carers, Alzheimer sufferers and women in domestic violence refuges.

Mrs Kanji died (very peacefully) a year into my job at Comic Relief and shortly afterwards I started my first novel about a one-seated cinema that, yes you guessed it – shows people a film of their life.

this blog originally appeared on the Novelicious website