How ‘The Split' writer Abi Morgan tells how her own life was turned upside down

Peter Gruner talks to screen about the real-life events that plunged her into a ‘dystopian nightmare’

Thursday, 28th July — By Peter Gruner

ABI MORGAN- credit Ruth Crafer

Screen writer Abi Morgan, author of This is Not a Pity Memoir. Photo: Ruth Crafer

ACCLAIMED writer Abi Morgan has written screen and stage plays peopled by the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Emmeline Pankhurst, and has an office above a “sweet smelling lotion shop” off Upper Street, Islington.

However, in her insightful and often amusing new book, This Is Not A Pity Memoir, she gives a blow-by-blow account of real-life events three years ago.

She writes how she was sitting in the private room of a Soho restaurant with the stars of her highly praised BBC TV drama The Split – but her mind was elsewhere, consumed by her own “dystopian nightmare”.

The story began back in 2018 when her partner of 20 years – now husband – Jacob Krichefski, 49, father of their two children, collapsed and was later placed in a coma which lasted for six long months. Soon afterwards Abi developed cancer symptoms and eventually had a breast removed, although she has now recovered.

For the Bafta and Emmy award winner Abi, it was a terrible time. She had been working on a drama about Cleopatra for Netflix when Jacob collapsed.

Fortunately, today, three years later, life is a lot better and talking to Review, she offers advice to readers in a similar situation: “Keep the day-to-day metronome of life going; cooking dinner, watching movies, walking the dog. These will be the constants that can sustain you, feed you, inspire you and take you out into nature. Remind you that the world will keep turning even when you are clinging on for dear life.”

Back to the book and the Soho restaurant, where stars of The Split, Nicola Walker and Stephen Mangan, were kind and caring but all Abi could think of was the plight of her beloved Jacob.

A professional actor, Jacob, who has multiple sclerosis, had been taking a new drug to counteract its effects when he collapsed at their home in Stroud Green. He was rushed first to the University College Hospital in Euston and then a few days later to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Queen’s Square.

Abi describes how she kept writing, to take her mind off the issues and because bills needed to be paid. And of course, as every writer knows, not everything is successful. There were films, she writes, that went belly-flop even after working for years on the script.

Day after day she visited Jacob, telling him she loved him and then one day he blinked.

“I love you, Jacob. I know you can hear me,” Abi whispered.

And he moved his lips. She was encouraged to keep talking to him even in his heavily drugged state.

When he finally woke he appeared to recognise their dog but not Abi. It was a sign that he had developed the rare Capgras syndrome, where a person believes that a friend, spouse, parent, or other close family member has been replaced by an identical impostor.

The hospital, where Jacob was treated for a year, is a red brick building built in 1859 and the first in England dedicated exclusively to treating the diseases of the nervous system.

“The nurses are a different breed to any we have met before,” Abi writes. “They move quietly, tenderly around the patient, who are all struggling with different kinds of brain disease and injury.”

Then for Abi there was the exhaustion of regular chemotherapy on top of visiting Jacob every day in hospital.

She also realised that without Jacob a lot wasn’t being done around the house – the banking, car maintenance, tax returns, football fixtures, tutors for the children and vet appointments.

When he was finally able to go home after a year in hospital she realised the costs of providing full-time care would be punishing.

“I push myself through,” she writes, “but it will take all our savings and will regularly clean us out financially.”

At first Abi feared that Jacob was not the same man as he was before the collapse and there was no guarantee that he’d improve.

But there are moments of happiness and humour between them. She tells him she’s been talking to her accountant and for tax reasons they should get married. “There’ll be cake,” she smiles.

“And then he looks at me and he smiles.”

“I suppose we ought to then,” says Jacob.

The best news today is that her husband is really improving. “Jacob is doing brilliantly and has made a remarkable recovery in the last six months,” she tells Review.

“Way beyond anything we could have hoped for. He is starting to do those things he loves – playing tennis, writing songs on his ukulele and travelling again, so we are feeling very hopeful for life and his future right now.”

In the book’s acknowledgements Abi thanks both the UCH and the National hospital. “Jacob would not be here without them,” she writes. “Thank you for never giving up on Jacob and for saving his life.”

This is Not a Pity Memoir. By Abi Morgan, John Murray £14.99

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