So, picked up my New Year frock from the dry-cleaners - 'Ooh all ready for a big party?' the kindly lady asked. Cue wavy lines, reminiscences of parties past, champagne, fireworks and tender midnight kisses ... I hadn't got the heart to tell her we are spending it with Grandy and Gramps and whether we make it to midnight depends on the pilot's jetlag.
What happens to you when you stay with your parents? Is it just me or do you end up regressing? No one on God's earth would get away with patting me on the backside and saying 'Ooh you look too skinny/haven't you put on a bit since we last saw you?' other than my mother. I've just been re-reading Alan Bennett's brilliant collected works. He affectionately recalls his Mum meeting his idol T S Eliot - when he explains what an important literary figure he is his dear Mum says 'Well, I'm not surprised. It was a lovely overcoat.' When he goes to visit the Bronte parsonage with his Mum at one point (in the days before it was chichied up by the National Trust or whoever runs it now), he describes with glorious understatement how his mother glanced at the limp curtains and dusty hearth in need of blackening 'Too busy writing to keep the place up to scratch ...' she said. If it's a toss up between penning Wuthering Heights or cleaning the oven, I know which would win in this house.
The tables are now turning and I wonder what kind of blunders I shall make with my own children. The transition from thin-skinned teenager cringing with embarrassment to rhino-hided parent capable of unwitting acts of mortification passes unnoticed. The painful self-consciousness of the teenage years - who'd want to go back? One of the lovely things about growing up/older is the chance to lighten up, take yourself a whole lot less seriously. Just in time for your own children to point out your glaring flaws. Until you have children old enough to judge you, you think you are still - if not the wild young thing of the old days - still more hip than hip replacement. Why is it your friends' parents were always cool while your own were ... not? Have your kids ever called you up short on anything? What's the worst your parents have ever done to you - or have you ever embarrassed the pants off your children? I can see whole vistas of opportunity opening up before me in terms of mortifying the children - Dad dancing, inappropriately youthful clothing. Christmas, New Year, weddings and funerals - it's no wonder these family events are set pieces for fiction and film. They are dramatic pressure cookers, and wonderful fodder for observant writers like Bennett.
Interestingly, he did not grow up in a bookish household (they were hidden away in a cupboard). There was I think one bookcase at home growing up. How about you? Now, I could very happily start a mobile library (a career option if all else fails perhaps?) My parents are curious but perplexed I think by this crazy desire to write. It probably has something to do with the lack of anything concrete to show them. When my first short story won a competition aged 17 and was reprinted in the local Gazette, Mum must have bought every copy in a thirty mile radius. They have always been supportive, but perhaps now they think I'm deluded? Until I actually hand them a copy of the book I'm not sure it means much. That will be a good moment. As long as they don't think it's autobiographical ...
It made me laugh reading how Isabel Allende's family were scandalised by 'The House of the Spirits'. That was until it was made into a successful film, at which point portraits of Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons proudly joined the family photographs. Funnily enough, having drinks with some neighbours just before Christmas the woman nudged the six year old and said 'Who knows, maybe Mummy's book will be made into a film and she'll be famous!' It's curious that films are accorded a higher sense of success than books. I do want to write the film script of The Lovely Ruined Things eventually, and I have a secret wish to direct films ... but to see this manuscript in print next year is the only dream now.
Wishing you all a wonderful end to the year - let's prove the gloom-merchants wrong and make 2009 our best year yet. May our pages, hearts and glasses always be full x
If your juggling skills could give the Cirque du Soleil a run for its money this is definitely the blog for you. Books, art, music, family life and daily prompts to help you write that book you have in you.