I recently wrote an article (What If…) for Newbooks Magazine, which has been published in their July/August edition. Sadly, the piece isn’t available on their web page, but they were more than happy for me to post the article – in which I discuss the inspiration for Sworn Secret – for those people who don’t subscribe to the magazine. Many thanks to Newbooks Magazine for including me in this month’s edition. What with this, my first public reading a couple of weeks ago, and a recent radio appearance as a guest on Anne Diamond’s show on BBC Berkshire, the run-up to publication day is getting more and more exciting!
“When my first daughter was born I was hit with that sudden responsibility all new parents feel. Here was a child and it was my job to keep her safe and happy, and deliver her to adulthood in one well-adjusted piece. The drive home from hospital, our tiny baby buttoned into an outsized Babygro, felt fraught with danger. My heart thumped as I walked down those wet, November steps to our basement flat, cradling her eggshell skull. Our babies lie there, helpless and dependent, tiny hands grasping handfuls of air, and you know you’d die protecting them. As they grow you begin to lengthen the proverbial apron strings. You say yes to that first sleepover, allow them to cycle the roads, let them head into town with friends. Age draws our children away from us. And how unaware they are of this shift in responsibility! How cavalier they are. How merrily they wave goodbye. Did she hear me remind her to look both ways before crossing? The first time I dropped my eldest at the cinema to see a film with her friends I was struck by how grown up she seemed. When did my baby get so big? I watched her walk away from me, unaware of me, involved with her friends, amazed at how precariously she balanced on her teenaged cusp – on one side the baby I cradled, on the other a fully grown adult free to make her own way. You get to a point in parenting when all you can do is cross your fingers and hope your child will be sensible, won’t walk on train tracks, won’t drink to oblivion, won’t do drugs. The list of things you hope your child won’t do is endless.
Every now and then the thought flashes through my head: What if something happens to one of my children? A suffocating dread fills me, tears spring, and I wince. It was this dread that consumed me as I wrote Sworn Secret. I imagined myself glued to videos of her dancing aged three, riding her bike aged five, giving me a double thumbs up over her tenth birthday cake. How would I muster the energy to dress, to shop, to eat, even? I’d have to, of course, if only for my two other daughters. It’s this conflict between giving up and carrying on, of coming to terms with what’s redefined you as a parent, which inspires the book.
My eldest daughter is cloned from my husband. They are chalk and chalk – her mannerisms, her dark looks, her calm, studied reservation – and I am often heard exclaiming: ‘You’re so like your father!’ What if the worst happened? I worry that all I’d see in him was her, a harrowing mirror reflecting her back to me every time I looked at him; everything about him a constant reminder of my loss. Would our relationship survive this onslaught? I adhere to the what-if rule of narrative development, linking one eventuality to another by answering a series of what-ifs. What if a teenage girl died in a tragic accident? What if her parents discovered something that not only altered their perception of her, but posed questions surrounding her death? What if her mother became so consumed with the truth that she neglected her living daughter? The family in Sworn Secret – Kate, Jon, and Lizzie – have a strong foundation of love, but would this be enough to hold them together in the face of such what-ifs? In writing this book I forced myself to confront my fears as a parent. It’s these fears that lie at the heart of the book. It’s my love for my family that lies at its soul.”