Today the super-shiny proof of my latest novel, Forbidden Pleasures turned up. It’s not being published until August, but here it is, in print. It’s a cause for much celebration over the breakfast table.
After we’ve all ‘oo-ed’ and ‘ahh-ed’ and taken turns to stroke it, we have a big session of ‘finish the sentence’. It’s a tradition.
Emlyn reads, ‘Lois was in the senator’s arms…?’
‘When she heard the shot,’ I reply, not missing a beat.
It’s the big one’s turn. ‘Does anything really matter, apart from this? Apart from us?’ she reads. ‘And then…?’
‘Easy!’ I say, munching my toast. ‘And then his lips were on hers in the moonlight.’
‘Well done, Mummy,’ says the little one, clapping her sticky hands together in the booster chair.
But the middle one has learnt to read too and she wants a turn. She opens the book at a random page and reads slowly.
‘She leaned down and flicked her tongue over -’
‘Give me that!’ I yelp, lunging over the table to grab the book. ‘Shouldn’t you be getting ready for school?’
Emlyn laughs, but I again I’m left worried about how this weird profession of ours will affect our kids in the long-term.
I like to think that they’re getting a totally normal childhood, but I supposed there are little ways in which our writing life infringes on our family life. The kids fridge magnets that get commandeered to attach reviews in pride of place in the kitchen, the haphazard pile of foreign editions wedging open the playroom door, the tiny scraps of paper bearing sacred nocturnal jottings that must never be touched or moved – even if they happen to be on the back of homework. The promised bed-time story that gets postponed because one of us has ‘book head’ and has retreated to speed type the section we’ve been puzzling over all day, which only surfaced when we were flipping the fish-fingers.
And then there’s the irrational superstition about the post. In our household, the post gets shuffled through and discarded, until we find ‘The Precious’. These are envelopes containing an invoice statement from our agents. When one of these arrives, Emlyn rubs it in a Gollum-like way and makes eyes at me. The invoice inside tells us how much we’ve been paid, but neither of us have a clue how much this may be. It could be say, news of twelve pounds eighty-eight pence royalties from Latvia, or a big load payload from Holland, where our books have always been popular.
Back to this morning, and the little one says ‘are my words in there?’ It’s sweet that she’s remembered, although technically she only typed a space, in between ‘The’ and ‘End’ which belonged to her sisters. I remember now that hot summer night, when I hauled the girls out of bed to come and type ‘The End’. Exhausted, wrung out, I wept as they typed. ‘Promise me you don’t become writers,’ I wailed. ‘Look what it’s done to your old mother.’ They looked disturbed and went back to bed, but I was too absorbed in post book-birth to worry.
Despite my warnings, however, the big one is showing worrying signs of becoming a writer. As I did as a child, she wanders around all the time with a pen and a spiral bound notebook. She read some of her work in progress the other day to us. I didn’t have to look at Emlyn to know we were both thinking the same thing: She’s good.
So good in fact that afterwards, we did have the hushed conversation: would it technically be plagiarism to nick one of her descriptions? Surely as writers, breeding our own metaphor machine is allowed?
Fortunately, the middle one is showing promising signs of being a level-headed future accountant. Not long ago I found a big pot of money under her bed.
‘What’s this?’ I asked.
‘Saving for what?’
She shrugged. ‘Food…University…Stuff.’
‘Look, Mummy, I know the precious have stopped arriving,’ she added, with a sympathetic look.
I had to explain that thanks to the postal strike at Christmas and the literary agents desire to save paper, invoices were now arriving by email and no longer by post.
It took a moment for this to sink in. But it still didn’t dent her resolve.
‘Whatever happens, I’ll look after you,’ she told me, hugging me close.
That’s what you want your kids to tell you, right? But when you’re eighty.