They f*ck you up, your Mum and Dad…

I was nearly thirty before I realised what a good job my parents had done. My mum used to say I became a teenager at nine, and I think I stayed that way for twenty years. Among the many horrible things I said about my parents, behind their backs and sometimes to their faces, was that I wished they’d never had kids, especially when they must have known we’d all grow up to have inherited all their worst characteristics and be total headcases. I wasn’t very keen on myself, then, either, and saw this as more proof that they’d done a terrible job and made me into a monster.

I inherited many weaknesses from my parents, and maybe they threw a few extras in there too just for me, but now (now that I’m an actual grown up and not just pretending to be one) I see that I inherited a great many of my favourite strengths from them as well. I was told at the weekend, by a friendly old vicar in Salisbury Cathedral, that growing up a vicar’s daughter is a real blessing. A few years ago, I might have argued with him about that. Growing up in a vicarage is a beautiful and terrifying thing, not least because you always feel that you have to be on your very best behaviour everywhere you go, so as not to let the Parish down. That obviously has an impact on your cognitive behaviour. But really, it is a lovely way to learn about community and social responsibility and charity, among other things. My father is a quite incredible human being, a man of faith as well as intelligence (seemingly so rare these days, if you listen to Richard Dawkins). He is creative and funny and very, very wise. When I was a teenager, I took his quiet acceptance of things as a sign of weakness, now I have nothing but admiration for his endless patience and love.

My mother was the one who got the worst of my teenage bitterness. I speak to women at work with teenage girls, who are at the end of their tether and cry on me about what more they could possibly do, and I think back to some of the things I said and did to my own mother with nothing but shame. I tell these women at work “Don’t worry, she might start talking to you again when she’s about 29” – which doesn’t really have the desired effect. For almost twenty years, I blamed everything that was wrong with my character and my relationships on the image I had of who my mother was, and no one could tell me otherwise. People said wonderful things about my mother to me all the time, speaking glowingly of this other woman they seemed to know, and I’d just looked at them, bewildered, and wonder who they were talking about.

Which makes me laugh now, but is a truly horrible way to think about your mother.

When I was about to turn thirty, I went to visit a counsellor for six months. Really, I was struggling with an increased workload, and the idea of turning thirty without having done very much, but mostly, this counsellor wanted to talk to me about my early childhood. I don’t have much of a memory, but I told her what I could. And, in the course of those conversations, I began to see the mother that everybody else had been talking about for all those years.

An intelligent and beautiful woman with a career, who put it on pause to raise four children and be the vicar’s wife. Who moved towns with her husband’s job having to make new friends every time she started somewhere new. A woman with three children under the age of 5, who got so bored sitting at home in a tiny place in Bedford that she set up a playgroup there from nothing. A woman who moved again with a small baby, and did the same thing somewhere else. A young mother who, finally having all her children at school, decided to change jobs and become a primary school teacher at one of the toughest schools in Oxfordshire. Then got bored and became a lecturer instead. And all the time, my mother was also the wife of the vicar, a job many of them still choose to do full time. And when her children all moved away and she was looking to retire? – then my mum decided to change career path once again and became a vicar, too*. I can’t imagine the kind of drive and determination that it must take to do all of these things to the high standards that she has for herself. I can’t imagine putting anyone, let alone five other people, first in my life and putting my own wants and needs second (or sixth). I can’t imagine how she did what she did and still managed to stay sane at all!

My mum came to visit me this afternoon, to look after me and give me a hug. She talked to me as though I was an adult, because I was finally behaving like one. We walked around Hyde Park and talked about all of the things I might have inherited from her. I talked about teaching, about how difficult I’m finding things, and she listened and she understood. She hugged me and told me she loved me.

In summary, and because I’ve not said it enough (if ever): I have the best mum in the world and I wouldn’t trade her for anyone. She’s also looking very good at the moment, having lost an incredible 2 1/2 stone since last time I saw her. We’ll be swapping clothes next…

*This isn’t a complete CV, I was very young in those days, and may have missed a bit.

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On writing a Novel in Thirty Days

I haven’t blogged much in the last month choosing, instead, to save all my words for NaNoWriMo, which came to a close last night. I am writing these words as someone who has just written a 50,000+ word novel. I never thought I’d say that! I feel incredibly smug about having finished, not just because I reached the Sacred Word Limit, but also because I feel like the process of writing taught me a great many lessons.

Firstly, if you make an entire chapter of your book a conversation over email, you can spend a great deal of your words on the formatting of To, From, Date and Subject. But that’s cheating…

Seriously, it was a curious experience shutting myself up in my study every night after school and every weekend and just trying to get some words down. Some days it was so easy my fingers could barely keep up and I was averaging a thousand words every forty minutes. Other days, I thought I’d never be able to say anything at all and it was a real struggle to sit down and type anything. On a good day, the words seemed to be coming, not from my head, but from somewhere behind me – I was catching them as they flew past. Whole pieces of dialogue came to me from somewhere else, as though I was merely transcribing a conversation I was eavesdropping on. Some of the things the main character says about her friends and her husband, where so cruel I couldn’t believe I’d thought them up myself. Some of them were so funny, I wondered the same thing.
On days when the writing wasn’t coming so easily, I borrowed fairly heavily from real life. This is just one of the many reasons why I won’t be sharing the book with anyone I love.

Writing, they say, takes dedication. I always thought this would be the hardest thing about writing, I’m not a very organised person, and I find it difficult to commit to anything for a long period of time. But the times when I was writing, and writing well, were a real joy to me. I can write. I am a writer.

Throughout the month, the thing I was most bowled-over by, was the huge amount of support I received from the people around me. I’ve written before about why I felt the need to so publicly announce on facebook quite how many words I had, or hadn’t written each day. I needed to do it, at first, so that I might be spurred on by the threat of having to tell my facebook friends that I had caved and given in. But soon, the many posts I got from friends who were following my progress were the best thing about writing. It was beautiful to bask in their awe, their love, and I was really spurred on by them. Wordman came to make me tea as I wrote. The Husband cooked, cleaned, did my laundry and hugged me lots (he does all that anyway, even when I’m not working to a ridiculous deadline!). All the friends I saw over the month talked to me about my writing, suggested car chases and brutal murders, asked me what it was about. My tutor group, usually so lethargic and apathetic, asked on occasion how it was going. Without these people, I’m not sure I’d have finished as soon as I did.

Finding that you have over 50,000 words in your head that can be out down on paper is a truly incredible experience, and one which I recommend to anyone. I’d heard nightmare tales about losing my social life and staying up all night to meet deadlines. I didn’t find any of that I real issue, which maybe only suggests I don’t have a very exciting social life in the first place. I finished with days to spare and, whilst I can’t say that my mental health is unscathed by the incident, I feel a real sense of achievement.

As for the book, it’s a piece of cliched Chick Lit. But, in my humble opinion, it’s the best Chick Lit I’ve ever read…