The Manchester Review

Caroline Chisholm: 1972-2015

This post is a tribute to our dear friend and colleague, Caroline Chisholm, a talented writer who passed away, too young, this month. This biography of Caroline was written by her parents for a memorial service held on 13 July 2015.

Caroline was the second of three sisters who were born in Brentwood but never wanted to be raised as Essex Girls.

As a toddler, Caroline couldn’t quite pronounce her name but proudly told everyone that she was called Tanoline. This led to her nickname of Tansy, then Tans, which she was known by to her parents and siblings all her life.

The family moved to Buckinghamshire, then Shetland, being joined on the way by two young brothers, then on to Durham and back to a different part of Essex before coming up to Southport in 1991.

Caroline started at primary school in Ibstone in Buck, then at Scalloway in Shetland and on to Peterlee in county Durham where she took her GCSEs and finished her A levels in Westcliff on Sea before she went on to take a BA (Hons) Degree in English and Russian Studies at Queens University in Belfast.

From an early age, Caroline was an avid reader, a lover of music, dancing (ballet and ballroom), and art. She loved all animals but especially horses.   She spent most of her time with friends and their horses and finally owned two Arab horses herself as an adult.

She became a vegetarian at 13, the only vegetarian who didn’t really like vegetables! She existed on a diet of peanut butter and beetroot sandwiches with the addition of Burger mix, Sosmix and sunflower seed burgers (in the days before Quorn!) and she thrived, much to her worried mother’s surprise. Caroline remained a vegetarian until her diagnosis in September 2013 when she stared a very strict vegan/ketogenic diet which she continued until the final four weeks of life when she snacked avidly on peanut butter and jam on toast and as much chocolate as she could eat. Who indeed can blame her?

Caroline was always keen on exercise and sport – running, cycling and swimming – and was about to do a Channel swim the year before she became ill, but she was ‘timed out’.  A Channel swim can only be attempted at certain times of the year, and the weather plays a deciding part. Those intending to swim the Channel that year are given a time slot — if their swim is cancelled due to bad weather, they have to wait until the end of the season but can only swim then if there is sufficient time and suitable weather. Caroline spent hours training in the murky open sea around Dover Harbour where the polluted waters made her physically sick. You have to dedicated, mad or really brave to do that and Caroline was all three!

From University, Caroline went to work at the Northern Ireland Film Council, at first on graduate training, but was then offered a contract. She then spent over fifteen years working as a professional communicator with the National Osteoporosis Society, EarthWatch, and Greenpeace, amongst others.  In 2012, she returned home to re-evaluate her future and enrolled for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. During this time she worked part-time as a care assistant and did volunteer work for Southport Lifeboat. She entered the first part of her novel Swimming Pool Hill for the prestigious Bridport Book Prize in a new category for first novels, and out of 1,200 entries, she was awarded first prize in October 2014. By this time she had graduated her MA, had started a PhD, and was working on another novel as part of this.

Caroline was taken suddenly ill when doing some research in Calais for her first novel in September 2013 and was diagnosed with an aggressive and malignant brain tumour. She underwent surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which seemed to be successful and she just got on with her life. She didn’t find it easy living from scan to scan and no knowing what the outcome would be. When in April this year a scan showed that she had a new tumour and that the original one had returned with a vengeance, she never complained or gave up. She was still determined to finish her book and was jotting notes only days before her untimely death.

Caroline will be sorely missed by family, friends, colleagues and fellow students. She was an amazing example of how to fight adversity. Her last thoughts were to spare her family any undue suffering and she slipped away quietly and unexpectedly.

Caroline, you are a shining star and we will always try to tread in your footsteps.

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