For almost four years I’ve been working on a book about my mother, provisionally titled In the Wars. It tells the story of her life – born in the shadow of one world war, growing up in another, being a woman in the 1950s, the pressures of marriage and motherhood, suffering depression and dementia in her later years.
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll have read some parts of my journey as I discovered my mother’s inner life through her own writing, trying to understand what happened to this vibrant, intelligent, passionate young woman to bring her to a place of so much pain. And I know that in writing the book, I’ve healed much of the pain her suffering caused me – if only I could tell her that.
Yesterday, with a mixture of trepidation and hope, I sent the final version of the book off to my agent. I have no idea about the state of publishing under lockdown. Of course there are no book launches, literary festivals, public events other than online, but at least we can all keep reading. It may even be that book sales have increased as people have more time at home to fill.
This hiatus from ‘normal’ life should have been the perfect time to crack on with either new or long-term creative projects. For some people this has been true, but many others have found that the formlessness and lack of real connection are enemies of being productive. ‘Torporific’, one musician friend described it. When the usual structures disappear, there are suddenly so many small decisions to be made every day that the self-discipline to devote a portion of it to creative endeavours has been hard to find. Not to mention the throb of underlying anxiety – as humans we don’t do very well with the unknown, with loss and change, even though these are essentially the ingredients of life.
In the event, I got the book finished at just around the time I estimated it would be done, not through any regular writing structure but in short bursts as the mood took me. It was a question of almost completely re-writing an already finished (and rejected) manuscript, in order to change the focus and incorporate all the new material I had come across. I think and hope that it is now a much better book, though whether it will ever see the light of a bookshop shelf who knows?
My mother was in many ways an ordinary person, but her life story was representative of very many women’s lives in the twentieth century: a history of trauma, the stifling of emotions, the constraints on women’s choices, the inadequacy of mental health care. We were all brought up by those women, as mothers and grandmothers, so what happened to them is significant for us. I do hope her story, which is also my story, will resonate with you as well. Watch this space!