Whenever we speak, my mother asks ‘how’s the book going’. Usually she gets the briefest response (‘fine, thanks’) in a tone that suggests a follow-up query is neither necessary nor advisable. Don’t get me wrong, my mother and I have a great relationship. But the book is my book, and I confess, I’m over-protective.
Yesterday, buoyed by my progress through the line edit and with the end in sight, my normally well-concealed enthusiasm leaked out. I told her it was almost finished.
She has, on a few occasions, hinted gently that she’d like to read my draft. Hinted gently; in a way that could be passed over, as if it had been whispered in a voice too quiet to hear. But yesterday the gentle hint became an insistent plea… please let me read it… I know it’s not my kind of book, but I’d love to read it… because you’ve written it… because I’m your mother… Ah, yes, that final trump card.
My mother is 78 years of age and quite something (in a good way). In the last 15 years she’s written and self-published two non-fiction books – both thoroughly researched, serious works which have been well received in their niche sectors; a history of her family from the time of the Inquisition to the present day, and a history of the music publishing business which has been in the family since 1863. She’s a woman of culture who loves the stimulus of learning, classical music, art, history and travel. In case you haven’t realised, I’m hugely proud of who she is and what she’s achieved.
My novel – I’ve called it Singled Out – is a psychological drama set on a holiday in Turkey, which I expect to sit firmly on the quality general fiction shelves (positive thinking… see?). In a beautiful setting, bad stuff happens. It’s gritty, because I found I liked writing gritty stuff. I take a few of my characters on a day trip to Ephesus, but that’s about as cultural as my story gets. It isn’t the sort of story I imagine my mother selecting from the shelves at Waterstone’s. Even so I understand why she wants to read it. And I’m pleased – of course I’m pleased – that she’s not only interested, but keen to read it.
But it matters, what family think of you, and I think my writing might come as a surprise. Actually, perhaps even a shock – at least in parts. So when my mother reads it – and this will happen – I will await her response to the more visceral elements of the narrative with considerable apprehension.
Will she be nice about it? Yes, she will, I know it. She’s my mother, isn’t she? But I know myself, and I know that whatever she says, in whatever way (and it won’t be her fault) it will somehow be the wrong thing, and it will set me on a spiral of self-doubt and angst. There’ll be something I find to fret about in the tone, or the words, or it will be that thing she doesn’t say, or perhaps a momentary hesitation, a seeking after the most appropriate descriptive. It might be an ill-judged platitude. It could even be her fulsome, wholehearted praise; since even that will disturb me, because I won’t believe my story deserves this. She can’t win and that has nothing to do with her, and everything – everything – to do with me.
So for now, I can’t, I just can’t.