When I had a Little Sister by Catherine Simpson is a searingly honest and heartbreaking account of growing up in a farming family, and of Catherine’s search for understanding into what led her younger sister to kill herself at 46. It’s a story of sisters and sacrifice, grief and reclamation, and of the need to speak the unspeakable.
When did she decide to die? Was it before midnight on Friday the 6th, because she couldn’t face another night or was it before dawn on Saturday the 7th because she couldn’t face another day?
Did she think about us? Did she think about her dog, Ted, or her cat, Puss, sleeping on Grandma Mary’s old sofa in the conservatory and who would be waiting for her to feed them in the morning? What about her horses in the stable? Did she think about them? Did she imagine Dad finding her? It would have to be Dad, after all. It couldn’t be anyone else.
Did she know what she was doing?
On a cold December day in 2013 Catherine Simpson received the phone call she had feared for years. Her little sister Tricia had been found dead in the farmhouse where she, Catherine and their sister Elizabeth were born – and where their family had lived for generations.
Tricia was 46 and had been stalked by depression all her life. Yet mental illness was a taboo subject within the family and although love was never lacking, there was a silence at its heart.
After Tricia died, Catherine found she had kept a lifetime of diaries. The words in them took her back to a past they had shared, but experienced so differently, and offered a thread to help explore the labyrinth of her sister’s suicide.
Reviews of When I Had a Little Sister: The Story of a Farming Family Who Never Spoke
- ‘This is not a depressing read, but rather a rich family history that seeks to find a way to address the unspoken. Simpson is a precise and skilled writer… This memoir about Tricia, but also about a family going from five to four to three, and about the history of a Lancashire farm, is a considerable achievement’Cathy Rentzenbrink, The Times
- ‘A superb memoir….. Tricia’s heart-rending biography is interwoven with welcome portraits of Simpson’s bonkers ancestors, many of which are laugh-out-loud funny’ Leaf Arbuthnott, Sunday Times
- ‘Simpson’s writing – fillets the little details that reveal the profundity and bravery of her sister’s weakening struggle with mental illness … I found this book gripping and heart-wrenching. It sticks with me’ Mail on Sunday
- ‘Catherine Simpson’s tormented, riveting and bleakly funny memoir analyses her sister’s life to try to find out why she killed herself; in the process it becomes a moving evocation of the muck-spattered realities of modern farm life … That she resolves to write and “leave behind a lifetime of silence” can only be our gain, and dour rural taciturnity’s loss’ Richard Benson, Observer
- ‘Something else is on these pages: frustration and anger – with Tricia, with herself and with other relatives – that if only the family tradition of silence and the suppression of feelings had been challenged earlier things might have been different. In analysing the inherited values and habits of a lifetime, Simpson breaks the silence and liberates herself’ James Robertson, author of And the Land Lay Still
- ‘Catherine Simpson’s second book, carries a subtitle – “The Story of a Farming Family who Never Spoke.” Don’t be fooled. This book’s secret weapon is the remarkable voice that fires from the page to the heart with no hesitation at all. Just Wonderful. ’ Janice Galloway, author of The Trick is to Keep Breathing