Notes Made While Falling

Jenn Ashworth


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Notes Made While Falling is both a genre-bending memoir and a cultural study of traumatized and sickened selves in fiction and film. It offers a fresh, visceral, and idiosyncratic perspective on creativity, spirituality, illness, and the limits of fiction itself. At its heart is a story of a disastrously traumatic childbirth, its long aftermath, and the out-of-time roots of both trauma and creativity in an extraordinary childhood.

Moving from fairgrounds to Agatha Christie, from literary festivals to neuroscience and the Bible, from Chernobyl to King Lear, Ashworth takes us on a fantastic journey through familiar landscapes transformed through unexpected encounters and comic combinations. The everyday provides the ground for the macabre and the absurd, as the narration twists and stretches time. Hovering on the edge of madness, writing, it seems, might keep us sane—or might just allow us to keep on living.

In Notes Made While Falling, Ashworth calls for a redefinition of the creative work of thinking, writing, teaching, and being, and she underlines the necessity of a fearlessly compassionate and empathic attention to vulnerability and fragility.

But the driving interest for both writers here – and the overwhelming pleasure of both their books – is in their formal construction, the innovation and ambition they’ve brought to bear on telling these complicated and entangled stories.

Olivia Laing, author of Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency and Crudo

This is a really important unique visceral book about birth, trauma and new motherhood. I found the opening pages to be the most moving description of the kind of trauma many women face in childbirth in 2019 in the United Kingdom. It's raw and authentic, and it moved me to tears and to rage. We need to make our system of maternity care better.

 Dr Rebecca Moore, consultant perinatal psychiatrist and co-founder of Make Birth Better 

This exceptional book cracks open the complexity of human experience, exploring how to live and inhabit a body in the aftermath of trauma and loss. Ashworth expertly weaves the broader world into her story, threading art, writing, philosophy and history, from Dickens to Mantel, Freud to Anne Boyer. Notes Made While Falling is an evocative and profound meditation on living, art and survival.

Sinéad Gleeson, author of Constellations  

What kind of book does a sick woman who cannot write actually write?’ This is the question at the centre of the book, a book that is, among other things, a meditation on aesthetic imperatives and the quandaries of working in fictive or non-fictive modes, especially when the subject is one borne of the body of the writer and of trauma. This is a book that writers and readers will love to think with at the same time that they experience the rhythms and textures of the writing itself.

Mary Cappello, author of Life Breaks In: A Mood Almanack


Jenn Ashworth

Jenn Ashworth was born in Preston and studied at Cambridge and Manchester. Her novels include A Kind of Intimacy and Fell. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2018.

Life writing has been transformed in recent years to become one of the most diverse and innovative literary genres today. Listen to two leading exponents of the form talk about the new directions it’s taking and how they put together their recent books.