I won a course on marketing my book (in this case TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS) and the tutor commented on my first assignment that some of its appeal might be to single mothers. I hadn’t thought of that, even though the main protagonist is a single mother. Going forward, JIGSAW ISLAND, too, features a single mother. Hmmm – is this a case for personal therapy? For, you see, I don’t have children. I have two wonderful stepchildren and a lovely ‘sortadorta’, as we joke that she is, who now has two little charmers of her own. Then there are these three little beauties – whose Dad I’ve known for some forty years.
I have known single mothers, of course, witnessed their personal, emotional, logistical and financial juggling, have been a friend, colleague and sometime employer. Some mothers have coped better than others, some have been practical, tolerant, generous, celebrated their children, and others, well, least said… I don’t judge, merely observe.
As to why I don’t have children – well, I just don’t. But what I can do is empathise, have always been interested in imagining another person’s situation, which is why I write. Also, some 30 years working in theatre taught me a lot about creating and exploring character. Added to which, I have trawled back into my personal career as a nightmare daughter (with occasional lapses into humanity) and been as honest as I can.
This section from TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS was lifted from memory, partly when a single mother friend faced a crisis and summoned me to care for her little girl (yes, the ‘sortadorta’) who was very poorly. I cradled this beautiful child for an afternoon. Later, I watched as she grew, added a dash of my own rebelliousness and came up with this observation made by Clair about her daughter, Jess:
“I watched the incredibly beautiful young problem I’d brought into the world and tried to stave off my habitual wave of guilt. As ever, fear seeped into the vacuum. Jess was growing up too fast. Blossoming too soon. Where was that tiny body with pale blue veins tracing delicate ribs? Abandoned to relentless adolescence, that was where. Heading fast into womanhood.”
The ‘problem’, by the way, was not Jess herself but the circumstances of her birth. I remembered also the fun mother and daughter can have. This is an excerpt from Clair and Jess’ arrival on Symi:
“We hauled our grips up several uneven treads to a small terrace shaded by a large mulberry tree. A plaque over the door read ‘Aphrodite One’. The key was in the lock.
– Look, JJ, no need for Neighbourhood Watch on Symi!
– Mmm. Cool.
Inside, it was – cool – wonderfully cool. I flipped the light switch, illuminating white walls, marble floor, simple furniture. We dropped everything, savouring the chill. Jess, though, was still gripped by iPhone fever. How to buck her out of it? By this time, I was hyper on nicotine withdrawal. The opportunities for a sneaky drag since leaving Guildford had been nil. I didn’t need a scene on the first night. Inspired by desperation, I started a hectic, clumsy strip, heading for the shower.
– Beat you to it!
Jess finally set down her newborn to hop and struggle out of her jeans, shrieking.
– Not fair! I need the loo!
She laugh-howled, pushing past – and won. Or thought she did.
Half an hour later, dried and well sprayed with insect repellent, we sat on plastic chairs under the mulberry tree sipping overpriced whisky, late of Gatwick. Far opposite, a plantation of sapling white masts rose over rippling black water that flickered firefly reflections of taverna lights. Jess’s face, though, was uplit by her phone. I prodded her.
– No telling Maggie I’m weaning you on whisky.”
Readers who didn’t know me have been surprised that I don’t have children and those who did, appreciative of the insight. I’d be interested to hear other opinions.
There is an excerpt of TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS on the menu, above. Better still, go to Amazon and buy the paperback – or pledge for a paperback of JIGSAW ISLAND on Unbound and receive free copies of both ebooks.