Debut novel from Victoria author takes reader into the world of a woman living in long-term care

·3 min read
A health care worker is pictured with a senior at an assisted living centre in Abbotsford in November. In the midst of a pandemic that isolated seniors living in long-term care homes, a B.C. care aide has released a novel with an inside perspective of resident and staff life in one such facility. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A health care worker is pictured with a senior at an assisted living centre in Abbotsford in November. In the midst of a pandemic that isolated seniors living in long-term care homes, a B.C. care aide has released a novel with an inside perspective of resident and staff life in one such facility. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

A Victoria care aide who has been jotting down observations and stories throughout her 20-year career has released a timely novel that puts readers inside the head of a once fiercely independent woman who finds herself living in such a facility after a massive stroke.

Jo Owens took 10 years to write her debut novel, A Funny Kind of Paradise, and says her protagonist Francesca is a combination of traits from numerous people she has looked after during that time.

Released by Penguin Random House Canada on March 9, the story follows Francesca as she finds friendship, laughter and even some inner peace in a place where she initially felt stripped her of her freedom.

"If anyone reads my novel and feels an increase in empathy to the people that live and work in extended care that would be a win for me," said Owens, speaking to Gregor Craigie, host of CBC's On The Island.

Owens said the idea for a novel first came to her in the early 2000s when she says the provincial government of the day made health-care cutbacks in the sector. That left her and her colleagues thinking that if others knew what care aides saw every day, they would never make such cuts.

She started writing A Funny Kind of Paradise soon after and then took two years to edit the book.

"I put my heart and soul into it I can say for sure," said Owens.

Francesca's journey

The lead character, Francesca, is a single mom of two who worked hard to keep her accounting business afloat and food on the table for her children. She had a great friend named Anna who she leaned on for emotional support before Anna died.

Shortly after her best friends death, Francesca, just shy of 70 and looking forward to a peaceful retirement, has a stroke that leaves her voiceless, partially paralyzed and reliant on staff in an extended-care facility.

"Francesca wasn't really a warm and fuzzy person," said Owens, adding that her character had a strained relationship with her daughter and the state she finds herself in actually gives her time to reflect and forgive herself.

A Funny Kind of Paradise by Jo Owens was published by Penguin Random House Canada and went on sale March 9.
A Funny Kind of Paradise by Jo Owens was published by Penguin Random House Canada and went on sale March 9.(Penguin Random House Canada)

Amidst the indignities of bed baths and a feeding tube, Francesca is also surprised to experience moments of joy and humour and delights in the drama of the crew of care aides buzzing around her.

All of her thoughts she shares with her friend Anna, speaking to her in her mind when she does not have the ability to speak to anyone else.

The book comes at a time when seniors living in B.C. facilities will soon regain some of the freedoms COVID-19 took away from them — such as daily recreational activities and visits with loved ones.

Owens, 59, continues to work as a care aide in the Capital Regional District and says while she hopes to keep doing that work for some time, she is also hoping to bring more stories to readers in the future:

"I hope I get to be a writer for the rest of my life."