Or how amongst the worst news can emerge something unexpected
I received the call about six in the morning from the hospital to tell me that my mother was not going to recover from the pneumonia that had seen her stricken in a hospital bed for the past two weeks.
“Anyone who wants to say goodbye should come this morning,” said the voice. He was very clear that we should not leave it until the afternoon. After calling my brother I waited for it to be very definitely morning, this being a Sunday after all, and telephoned my uncle and aunt, my mother’s brother and sister. Whilst we had all been prepared for the news, when the news finally came it transpired that we weren’t.
The hours that immediately followed that call were surprisingly joyful and uplifting. We gathered round my mum’s bed, my brother and I with my aunties, uncle, cousins to say goodbye to my mother who was peaceful but not with us. The hospital room was packed with family coming and going and when you get that many people together in a confined space you can’t help but say things that are funny, remember half forgotten stories which will prompt someone else around the bed to lob in the other half. My aunty, quiet unabashedly, asked me if I was going to use my mum’s money to buy a house now and my brother and I snorted with laughter about this in the cafe shortly after – our poor mum wasn’t even dead, yet family members were speculating what we were going to do with our riches. The sadness came once everyone had gone, after we had watched them say a barely audible goodbye to their sister and left.
It was whilst I was bobbing about in a clear and calm sea about six weeks later that I finally let my thoughts drift and my being recalibrate. I had taken my daughters on a last minute all inclusive sunshine holiday, I felt I needed it. It was at that moment, silent and alone, floating in the sea, I first realised I was in many ways free. My father had passed away five years previously. I am not sure you can be called an orphan when you are a grown up but whatever you called me I was now without the expectations and conventions of being a daughter. Whilst my parents were not wealthy, they owned a house so I had a small amount of cash in the bank which meant that feeding my daughters might not now soley rely on my leaving work on Friday and getting back there on Monday. I had some choices. Unexpected and unwanted but nevertheless my parents had gone and I was left with choices.
I went to see a talk by Adele Parks about a year after my mum had died. I am always interested to hear what successful authors have to say and she spoke of an event in her early 20s which prompted her to write. Chatting to her afterwards I told her that I had lost both my parents, my mother fairly recently. After expressing her condolences she used the word liberating and that was precisely the word that described how I felt.
Bobbing about silently in the Cretian sea I had let my thoughts examine what I could do with some of the money I now had: open a shop, maybe a little cafe somewhere, perhaps invest in a business, invest in someone else’s business. When I was eventually hit by the realisation of what I could do, I had to thrust my feet straight down on to the soft sandy seabed to stop me dunking under the waves.
I could invest in me. I could take some time out and invest in me. Actually write my book. Get it done. Back in my hotel room I gave myself a strong hard look in the mirror and asked myself if I truly believed. I began to mull it over, this revelation. I considered it as I would have done a business proposition. How much of my money would I be willing to invest? How much time off would that pay for? Would that be sufficient time to give writing my book a proper go? Did I feel the idea was commercial enough to sell? Would it be worth the investment? Did I think I could write a book that had a chance of being published? If the idea was good enough was I?
I was delighted to find that the answers were yes. I did believe in myself. I knew I was a good writer. I had confidence that the premise for the book was an interesting one. I could see it in Waterstones.
Both my parents had died in their early 60s so their deaths were unexpected and shocking. Like them my focus and drive had always been on earning money, working hard, providing for my retirement. But longevity is evidently not in my genes so was doing what I should do and not what I wanted to do, going to be worth it in the end?
My visit to the Adele Parks event happened a couple of weeks after I had finally handed in my notice. I was full of the excitement and champing at the bit to get going. The word liberation that she had used was an apt one for me. The financial aspect of course provided my safety net and made all the difference. But also the loss of my parents was liberating. My mother was a very anxious lady. She worried and fretted enormously, especially over me, her only daughter, now I was a single mother with two children. The smallest thing would grow to outrageous proportions in her head. The idea that I would call her and tell her I was giving up a good, secure and well paid job to go and write a book was laughable. And she loved my writing. She had instilled in me my love of stories. She would have desperately loved me to have been a published author, but strangely enough I couldn’t have made the big move that took me closer to achieving it while she was alive.
Take yourself seriously was another nugget of advice that Adele Parks gave. And here I am six months later. I have a completed manuscript, an independent editor has given it a very positive appraisal, I now have a writing blog and a website and a modest but growing Twitter account. I have gone back to work (we all have mortgages to pay) but I found another great, secure, well paid job quickly. I feel like I have made some bold decisions, invested in myself and given me the best chance I can of getting my book published. But most importantly, I feel like a writer now.