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Sussex professor’s ‘moving and beautifully achieved’ memoir endorsed by bestselling author, Hilary Mantel

At a time when family may feel more important than ever, a University of Sussex professor has published a personal memoir about his, which has received glowing praise from bestselling authors including Hilary Mantel.  

In Mother: A MemoirProfessor Nicholas Royle captures the spirit of post-war parenting as well as of his mother, whose dementia and death were triggered by the tragedy of losing her other son – Royle’s younger brother – to cancer in his twenties.  

Before the devastating ‘loss of her marbles’ Mrs Royle, a nurse by profession, is a marvellously no-nonsense character, an autodidact who reads widely and voraciously – from Trollope to Woolf, Tennyson to Foucault – swears at her fox-hunting neighbours, and instils in the young Nick a love of literature and of wildlife that will form his character and his career.  

To be published on 14 May by Myriad Editions, the book has been endorsed by bestselling author Hilary Mantel, who calls it "a tender and graceful study of parents and children" and praises it as "a moving and beautifully achieved memoir, and a testament to the writer’s skill and generosity of spirit". 

Among other things, it’s been described as a powerful reflection on the climate crisis and ‘mother nature’ – something which Professor Royle believes makes it especially topical.  

Professor of English, Nicholas Royle, said: “In part, the book is about the intimate and complex links between the figure of the mother and the Earth – or Mother Nature. But it’s also about where we all come from – and the love and care of a mother. The current state of the world seems to me in many ways to testify to the neglect, suppression and repression of what a mother is. 

“My mother in particular cared about everyone, and she also cared about other lives – the well-being of pets and wildlife, the beauty and vitality of the natural world.

"In her early years working in London, she was an occasional nurse for the Attenborough family. The memoir in part records the process of realising that my mother is inseparable from the things for which David Attenborough has become world-renowned: the beauties of our blue planet and the perilous threats and effects of climate change.

"The memoir attempts to consider how deeply the meaning of ‘mother’ is bound up with ‘mother nature’ and with the future of the earth.”  

But at a time when the world is suffering under a global pandemic, the book also resonates in other ways. 

Professor Royle said: “We all know how important the National Health Service is, but the pandemic has brought this home in an unprecedented way. My mother was an NHS nurse and, as I write in the book, she didn’t ‘support the National Health Service – she didn’t believe in it: she was it. To me and many others she was its simple extraordinary embodiment.’ I hope readers might relate to that feeling particularly strongly at the moment.     

“In a differently quiet way, in a period when literature and the arts are being variously cut, neglected or programmatically eliminated for their supposed lack of ‘transferrable skills’ and their apparent inability to fit in with ‘money-making’ and ‘professionalisation’, I think the memoir is also making a statement, through my mother’s love of literature, about the importance of reading and listening, novels and poetry, art and song. The current pandemic is perhaps bringing some of that home in a new way.     

“When I was young, my mother seemed just like anyone else’s. It took me till my early twenties before I really started to grasp how singular she was. Perhaps this is how mothers are for many people. 

“Family is hugely important. Right now many of us are having to rely on technology to see our nearest and dearest and it’s extremely hard. Others have already lost loved ones. The memoir is also a reflection on mourning and memory itself, and how important all these bonds are.” 

Mother: A Memoir is available on the Myriad Editions website. Use code myreadathome to receive a 25% discount and free p&p.  

Read a recent review in The Independent on Sunday here.

Myriad Editions are hosting an online event to celebrate the publication of Mother: A Memoir on Wednesday 13 May at 6.30pm. Nicholas will be in conversation with Anna Burtt, host of Radio Reverb’s Brighton Book Club.

Be ready to ask questions and raise your glass at 


By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Wednesday, 6 May 2020