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Audiobook offers glimpse into Jane’s life of love and loss

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Author Jane Wilson-Howarth in Nepal
Author Jane Wilson-Howarth in Nepal

Cambridge author and medic Jane Wilson-Howarth made good use of 2020’s downtime – she produced an audio version of one of her books, A Glimpse of Eternal Snows.

Jane, who spends part of her time in Nepal helping remote villagers access medical care, got back from the mountains of the Himalayas in April last year – but it wasn’t until December that the project was completed, and the audiobook went on sale in January 2021.

Subtitled A Journey of Love and Loss in the Himalayas, the book – published in print in 2007 – chronicles the life of Jane’s child David with Simon Howarth. David was born in 1993 and died in 1996.

“He had lots of problems, including heart problems, and we decided to take him away from care as it was making him miserable,” explains Jane. “We discharged ourselves against medical advice.”

The family went to Nepal, to give their son the best life possible. As they find their way in Nepali culture – Jane as a doctor, Simon as an engineer – they “find sanity, compassion, and joy with baby David, who in England was little more than an interesting medical case”.

“We were trying to demedicalise things that had been over-medicalised,” says Jane. Sadly, however, David’s life was destined to be short-lived.

“He just slipped away, which was okay as he would’ve got frustrated with his disobedient body if he’d gotten much older,” Jane, whose other two sons are now adults, says.

David Wilson-Howarth with a Nepalese ‘grandmother’ in Nepal
David Wilson-Howarth with a Nepalese ‘grandmother’ in Nepal

The memoir is a hefty 15 hours and 21 minutes long – one hour shorter than the audio version of The Da Vinci Code and four hours longer than The Hobbit.

“A lot of it is about life in Nepal with him, and the differences between Eastern and Western attitudes to disability,” Jane says from her long-time home on Hartington Grove. “A lot of people find it quite uplifting – it’s a healing book.”

The recording process started in Kathmandu but, when the first lockdown of 2020 began, the couple returned to Cambridge.

“We fled Nepal in April,” is how Jane puts it. “I got spooked by the idea of being in a hospital in Kathmandu. I started the recording in Kathmandu and finished it in Cambridge, it wasn’t recorded in a studio but it seems to have come out surprisingly okay, but I have a fancy microphone so that helped. I added some Nepali birds to the Nepali section and some blackbirds to the Cambridge section.

“It took from March until December to get it finished because there was a lot of editing to do, some re-recordings where there were tummy rumbles or the sound of the next door neighbour’s hoover. I did that myself, though there are some software packages out there too.”

Jane, who contributed to 50 Camels and She’s Yours, a 2018 Cambridge anthology of traveller’s tales, is optimistic that the audio version will find audiences.

Jane Wilson-Howarth at Heffers for the launch of ‘50 Camels and She’s Yours’ in 2018, an anthology of Cambridge travellers to which she contributed
Jane Wilson-Howarth at Heffers for the launch of ‘50 Camels and She’s Yours’ in 2018, an anthology of Cambridge travellers to which she contributed

“There’s two generations who like audiobooks, it’s for an older generation and for those in their 20s or 30s who like to listen while they’re exercising.

“It’s a bit of a growth area, that was one reason why I wanted to do it, to find a new audience. There’s quite a lot of 20-somethings who don’ t pick up a book at all.

“I’m also hoping the National Institute for the Blind are going to promote it: David was partially blind as well,” adds Jane, who nowadays is using her medical skills to help with the vaccination rollout at a local GP surgery.

An extract of the audio version of A Glimpse of Eternal Snows can be heard here.

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