My writing roots

Heroine Addicts 1st Published as part of QWF magazine’s series on heroines

“Sooner or later we all quote our mothers.”
Bern Williams

She’s not serious, right? Heroine Addicts, it says – and she chooses her own mother. How predictable is that? But after racking my brain in an attempt to come up with anyone else, I realise it has to be none other than dear old Mum. After all she got me into this writing business in the first place.

She provided the water-wings for my fledgling imagination – I started making up stories in my head long before I overcame my fear of writing them down. How she did this was so easy and natural that I have only just made the connection myself. She did things with words; she made ordinary life exciting.

It was the late sixties and I was eight years old, on holiday on the Kent coast, in one of those seaside towns with miles of prom and a swishing shingle beach. We were promenading on the sea front in the late afternoon sunshine, playing with the shadows our bodies made against the grey tarmac. For once my two brothers weren’t tormenting me, and mum was telling us how nice it would be just to take off in the car that we would one day own, and drive around England.

‘We’ll stay in B&Bs,’ she said, ‘travel round the whole coastline, and move on when the fancy takes us.’

It sounded like heaven to me – my only experience of holidays up until then had been grandma’s caravan by the sea, which, comfortable and convenient as it was, could hardly be accused of being stylish. Right away my imagination began working, and it hasn’t stopped since.

I imagined the smell of freshly cooked bacon and eggs, a bathroom with a huge bathtub, acres of foaming water and soft white towels to dry myself in. I saw miles of sandy beaches to build sandcastles on, restaurants serving fresh local fish and plates piled high with chips, amusement arcades, and funfairs with bobbing merry-go-rounds and swirling helter-skelters. And then the conversation turned to writing.

‘I am writing a novel,’ she said. We all held our breath. Imagine – our mother a writer. ‘It’s called the Magnolia Tree, it’s about a man who flowers before his time.’

At that time I knew as much about writers as B&Bs – I knew they existed but I had never experienced them. I wish I could write was my secret prayer for many years afterwards.

She used to write when we were in bed, but I don’t remember her talking about it again. Perhaps it was better that way. She had given me a glimpse into a world of possibilities and left it to gnaw away at my psyche for years to come until it finally spurred me into action.

When I was older and studying for school exams she used to help me with my homework, and I was amazed at the richness of her imagination. She could take one innocent word like ‘fire’ and find a dozen different meanings for it. She made words come alive for me, plots form in my head, characters come to life.

But it’s not just the writing bit that makes my mum a heroine.

She was a single mum when single mothers were treated with contempt. She worked at countless jobs to keep us fed, clothed and happy. She entered teacher training college when she was in her forties, helped hundreds of girls who had been written off by the education system through English O and A levels, tutored children traumatised by dreadful experiences, and nursed my grandmother through the last years of her life.

Since she retired she’s learnt to play the cello and overcome a lifelong phobia by learning to swim.

All through her life she has shown that you’re never too old, or too anything, to do whatever you want to do.

And the novel? She’s still working at it. After all, look at Mary Wesley – there’s still plenty of time yet.

Copyright © 2001 – 2007 by Debra Broughton
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