Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mother's Day

I've never been quite sure why the UK's Mother's Day is on a different date to - well, the rest of the world, it seems. But I want to wish a Happy Mothers' Day to everyone who is celebrating it today. (Well - to any mother anywhere!)

A  couple of years ago, Mother’s Day weekend had a special impact for me as it fell on the date when we would have celebrated my mother’s 100th birthday. We still celebrated it actually. My sisters and I met up to share a dinner and to raise a toast to her memory.  That way we could follow the advice she left us in her final message to us – a note she wrote to all of us in what she knew were her last days. ‘You have been my joy all your lives,’ she wrote.  ‘I love you. Love one another.’ 

My greatest delight and my greatest sadness came together on the day that I received the letter (there wasn’t ‘the call’ back then!) to say that Mills & Boon were accepting my first novel, The Chalk Line, which was the same day as she was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer.   We had hoped that she would live long enough to read my first novel in print – she refused to read the typescript because she was holding on in order to be able to  hold the book in her hands. Sadly, she didn’t quite manage it, but the doctors said that she lived much longer than they had ever anticipated. I like to think the thought of seeing my book was one of the things that kept her going.

My mother taught me to read. She instilled in me a love of books and reading. Because of her there were always books available at home to feed the reading hunger she created. She also dreamed of being a writer herself and had several poems published in her early twenties. I have one hazy memory of her sitting at a writing desk we had in our Yorkshire home, writing away on what I thought were letters, but later, discovered that in fact she was working on some children’s stories. I don’t know what happened to those tales – which is such a pity as I think she would have been a magical story teller herself.

She also read aloud to us – often by a real coal fire so that we could curl up beside her,  close our eyes, and see the pictures in the story inside our heads… Listening to those stories, concentrating solely  on what I was  hearing, focusing on the way characters behaved, the dialogue they spoke was the best possible training ground for learning how a novel worked on an instinctive and gut level. 

I have no doubt that listening to those stories and then drifting off to sleep with them in my head, I took the first steps on the road to becoming the writer I am today, with a storytelling skill learned, literally, at my mother’s knee! I made up stories to myself, finished off the tales she hadn’t yet  brought to an end, imagined how the characters she had created or read about would have behaved. And I learned the basics of simple, straightforward story-telling , building up excitement, using dialogue as a result.

Happy  Mother's Day to all mothers  today.  I hope it is a lovely day for you.

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