I attended Shannon Leone Fowler’s Traveling with Ghosts reading and I was completely blown away by her strength and her presence. Shannon’s story is moving and devastating. Her journey through grief is heart-breaking and took her to push herself physically and emotionally to make sense of what happened in her life. During her book reading of Traveling with Ghosts at Clapham Books in London, she shared that “bad things happen to good people”. Although this is a fact of life, when you experience loss first hand it’s difficult to recover, no matter how much support you get and how many years have gone past since your personal tragedy.
American-born marine biologist Shannon Fowler lost her fiancé during a trip in Thailand because of a freak accident. He was stung by a lethal box jellyfish and died almost instantly in her arms. The trauma made her fear the ocean for years, the place she had loved so much.
I cried when I read her article in The Guardian about her story. Thankfully, during the reading, Shannon chose extracts from the book from the prologue and from her trip to Bosnia. She met some extraordinary characters and witnessed unfamiliar realities. Her trip to Israel and Eastern Europe in the early 2000s was her way to deal with her crushing grief. She learned about death and how people in different countries dealt with it. In the Western world we tend to sanitise and gloss over death. In fear of upsetting someone who is grieving, we even avoid talking about their loss.
While travelling, Shannon kept writing back home to journal her experiences. Those emails were a precious resource to bring together memories and help her tell her story in her memoir. Shannon is the daughter of award-winning writer Karen Joy Fowler, author of the international bestsellers The Jane Austen Book Club and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.
After the reading there was a questions and answers session, with topics ranging from the writing and editing process (and the inevitable “when are you writing your next book?”), to how to deal with death. You can watch some highlights in this video.
Shannon ended her talk with an impassionate speech about supporting independent bookshops like Clapham Books: bookshops are fantastic places to bring communities together and where children can start appreciating the joy of reading.
Traveling with Ghosts is available in bookshops and on Amazon.
All pictures credits: Paola Bassanese