‘Writing book was therapy after all I’ve been through’
First a film and now Tom Ray, who battled back against the odds, has told his story in a book.
The paperback copy of Starfish was released on Thursday last week to coincide with World Sepsis Day, which was on Wednesday of this week.
It tells Tom’s horrifying story. In 1999, aged just 38, Tom suffered a cut to his mouth during a trip to the dentist. Two days later he was in hospital and fell into a coma.
He was diagnosed with sepsis and his wife Nic consented to having his arms, legs and part of his face removed to save his life. It was this Tom who woke up to - but with no memory of his children Grace and Freddy or Nic: a self-confessed “stranger to life.”
Last year, his remarkable story was made into a film - also called Starfish - starring Joanne Froggatt, of Downton Abbey fame, and Tom Riley.
And now the book looks set to thrust the quiet unassuming pair back into the spotlight. This week alone, they’ve been interviewed by Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain and been featured on BBC’s Panorama, as well as having their story serialised in a national newspaper.
But Tom told the Mercury that although it is a difficult story to keep retelling, he feels he must.
“It’s a story that other people need to be aware of and the book gives us a different voice to the film to do that.
“I’m the world expert on me so in some ways it was easy to write it. But it is not easy to keep telling the story of what happened.
“But when this devastating thing happened, I was made to feel like a freak of nature and that we were the only people this had ever happened to. That’s just not true.”
Every year 44,000 people die of sepsis - more than heart disease or most forms of cancer - and thousands more are living with amputations.
But Tom and Nic, of Alsthorpe Road, Oakham, are now working as public speakers, having set up their own business, sharing their story as a tale of triumph over adversity, and it is this that the book also conveys.
Part of the book is based on diaries written by the couple at the time, in part for their children to understand later in life.
But Tom has always been a keen writer, having penned short stories and novels before falling ill that were never published.
He believes writing is his “therapy”.
“Writing is something I’ve always done to get my thoughts and feelings out so in a way it’s been a sort of therapy.
“When you sit in front of a typewriter or screen, you’re alone with your thoughts and it helps to put things in perspective for me.”
It took just three months for him to write the 338-page book, alongside working in the call centre at Lands’ End in Oakham. Nic provided additional material, filling in the gaps of while he was in hospital. But it was a longer process to get the book published.
“We always thought there would be an opportunity for a book alongside the film,” Tom, now 55, said. “It’s a good feeling to finally see it in print - it’s good to have something tangible.”
While Tom and Nic were heavily involved in the making of the film - parts of which were filmed in Rutland - the book goes into far more detail. It tells of Tom’s background living with a violent father and his determination to become a good family man.
He says it is this determination that helped him overcome the challenges he faced when he woke faced with a new life.
Grace, now 20, is a university student, while Freddy is studying for his A-levels at New College Stamford. Grace has read the book although Tom admits they’ve not talked about what she thought of it.
“She just takes it all in her stride,” he said. “They both do - I’m incredibly proud of both of them.”
Since the film was released Tom and Nic have been to premieres and brushed with A-list celebrities and Nic said life had been “surreal”.
“It’s been strange and exciting,” she said. “One minute you’re at a film premiere or a book signing and the next minute you’re unloading the dishwasher in Oakham!
“But it’s been great. One of the things I’m really looking forward to is going into Walkers and seeing it on the shelves. People have just been so supportive locally.”
And Tom said that it was thanks to the support of his family, in particular Nic, and living in a close-knit community like Rutland that he’s been able to continue with life and walk down the street with a smile on his face.
“Despite this thing that’s happened to me, I’m still the luckiest man in the world.”
l The book is available now, priced £8.99.