Character Inspiration - Nathalie

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I'll be commenting on the chapters through out the bookclub, but for longer posts, I thought it'd be better to add them on here.

I wanted to talk about some of the inspirations behind the main characters in the series, and I thought I'd start with Nathalie.

I think I've mentioned how Nanny (my grandma) really influenced me as I was writing these books, and it's never more obvious than it is in Nathalie. Nanny suffered from Alzheimer's, and her condition went downhill rapidly as I was writing the series. Gemma and Harper's mother Nathalie suffers from a traumatic brain injury, but since her memory was affected, she sometimes displays similar behavior as that of someone with Alzheimer's.

I didn't write Nathalie on purpose to be a way to exorcise my emotions about Nanny. In fact, I didn't even realize it initially, until I was re-reading sometime later. I worked in a group home for almost 6 years before writing full time, and I also went to school (briefly) to work in human services, and I took a class on traumatic brain injury.

So it's from all of those things that I took inspiration for Nathalie. The thing about brain injury is that it can be severe or it can be minor. I remember learning about a guy who had gotten married, had a daughter, and he was totally devoted and loving. Then he got in a motorcycle accident, and hit his head just right. Afterward, he seemed exactly the same - except he was seemingly incapable of love. He no longer had the patience or interest in his wife or child. And his wife was talking about how hard it was because he looked the same and sounded the same, but he was so cold now.

But not every case is like that. In fact, every case is different. That is one of the reasons it can be so hard to treat and for families to deal with. Especially when you don't look sick, it's hard to adapt to.

In the end, Nathalie's condition did draw the most from Nanny, or at least from the times it was hardest for me. There was a period where Nanny thought she was about 20, and she was this lively teenager, talking about boyfriends and wanting to go out with her girlfriends, and she was still really funny and had her quick wit. Most of the time. Then other times, when she realized that she wasn't remembering things or that something was wrong, she would become very anxious and could even be violent.

So that's where I put Nathalie. Since Nathalie's condition isn't continuing deteriorate, I chose that stage as a baseline for her. She could remember some things, but not much before the accident, and she was quick to anger because it was harder for her process things. She didn't even have the same maturity level as her daughters anymore.

But when Gemma and Harper look at her, they still see their mom, and she is still in there. It's such a complicated and painful thing. Their relationship with her and the consequences of her accident and her condition still deeply affect who they are and the choices they will make in the future.

There are a lot of different things going on in the Watersong series, but I think it at its core, it really is a story about families - both the bonds we choose, and the ones that choose us. So while Nathalie doesn't necessarily have a lot of screen time, her character is incredibly important, and her presence is felt throughout the book.

For those of you reading Wake, do any of you have family members with traumatic brain injuries or diseases like Alzheimer's or dementia? If you do, do you relate to some of the complicated emotions that Gemma, Harper, and their dad have with Nathalie? Or does it affect you in entirely different way?

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