WENDY Mitchell is a writer who has never read her own best-selling book. She often forgets to eat, cannot remember people and finds a phone conversation impossible.

Four years ago, aged 58, she was diagnosed with early onset dementia. Until then, Wendy led a highly organised life as a single mother with a demanding career in the NHS. She was a keen walker, who loved baking and DIY. She also had a faultless memory.

She said: “I was fiercely independent and active, but increasingly I realised something wasn’t right. I couldn’t absorb information or take decisions quickly. Inexplicable things happened, like suddenly being unable to turn right in the car. By the time I was diagnosed, it was no surprise to hear the verdict but it was still devastating.”

Driven by determination that her two daughters would never become her carers, she realised the only way to remain independent was by organising every minute detail of her life. She immersed herself in the Alzheimers Society, volunteered for research projects, and kept a blog.

Her way of tackling life with dementia has been so successful that it led to a book Somebody I Used To Know. It introduced Wendy to a new world of campaigning, travelling and public speaking and she will be talking about her experiences at Hexham Book Festival on May 3 at 3pm.

Wendy was a voracious reader, but now she can only read children’s books. She forgets what she has read as soon as she turns a page. So how did she manage to write a best seller?

“I met a journalist, Anna Wharton, and we hit it off straight away,” said Wendy. “She wrote down my answers to her questions, then emailed tiny chunks to me to rewrite. So those little bits went backwards and forwards between us until we got it right.

“We drew on material in my blogs about my experience. There was a huge gap in my memory about the 18 months it took to be diagnosed, but my daughter had kept a diary so we referred to that.

“It was like doing a huge jigsaw puzzle until all the tiny bits fitted together.”

In order to come to Hexham for the Book Festival, Wendy will spend days preparing for the journey. She cannot cope with crowds or loud noises, but on stage, she will focus totally on the questions. The stimulation stops the fog of dementia invading her brain, she says.

How will she remember the answers? “I’m asked the same questions so often they feel familiar,” she said. “And I remember the emotions. So if you ask me how to wallpaper a room I couldn’t tell you, although I did it countless times, but I will remember the great satisfaction and pleasure it gave me.”

Superficially, Wendy seems so capable that people have accused her of not having ‘real’ dementia. “They have no idea of the preparation that goes into every journey or task I do. I say ‘try living my life for 24 hours’, then you’ll know if I have dementia or not.”

Technology and social media have been a godsend. Before dementia set in, she had no idea what an iPad or social media was. Her very patient daughter Sarah taught her how to use the iPad, Twitter and a smart phone and now she is totally dependent on them, using apps and setting alarms to remind her of every job - including eating - and appointments. She plans routes using public transport on her iPad, and writes her blog on it.

“I can’t handwrite anything, but typing is my escape from dementia,” she said. “I love Twitter. It’s my silent world of conversation because it is tiny 1-to-1 conversations.”

“If I stop doing something, I’ll completely forget how to do it again,” she said. “I once went two weeks without the iPad. When I picked it up, the keyboard meant nothing. Somehow, through sheer luck, I sent an email of gobbledegook to a friend who realised what had happened. She told me to look at the letters in her email, find them on my keyboard, and tap them. I did it over and over again until gradually my memory of the alphabet came back. She had to tell me what the space bar was for.”

The North-East has 46 dementia friendly towns, including Hexham and Corbridge. But Wendy says too often all we see is the bleak image of an elderly person in the final stages of dementia. The illness actually has a beginning and a middle during which there can be years of useful, enjoyable activity despite dementia. She lives totally in the present and never thinks of the past or the future. “Some people pay a fortune to learn about mindfulness, but that’s how I live day by day.”

“I’m told I was a very private person before dementia. But now I’m completely different, talking openly about my experiences and emotions all the time. I want to take the dreadful fear away and show that there is a good life after dementia, if you decide there is always a way around a difficulty. Don’t panic, take time, and strive to continue doing what you can, for as long as you can.”