Tag Archive | family

Father’s Day: My Thoughts

My father died when I was twenty-three. For years afterwards I hated the annual roll-around of Father’s Day. I put my head down, closed my ears and ignored it, apart from extending an ultra-gentle hand to my mother on those days, as I did on all his birthdays and the anniversaries of his death for the next twenty-three years that she outlived him.

When I first began to write, I wrote a fictional version of the story of my father’s ancestors and why they left England to live on a farm in Africa. The day I physically posted that heavy manuscript off to a local writing competition, I felt elation and relief in my car on the way back to work. Suddenly my joy gave way to tears, because I could imagine how proud my father would have been if only he had been alive to know what I had done, but he had been dead for twenty-two years by then – almost half of my lifetime.

A few days later my mother asked if she could read my novel. I was hesitant at first, but almost immediately I knew that I wanted to give her the opportunity that my father would never have – to read a book I had written. I printed out a copy for her, and I’m so glad I gave it to her to read, because little did I know that just over a year later she would be dead too. She never got to read any of my later novels, but she did read most of my early short stories. Five days before she died I sent off my second novel to another competition, and the following day I got the call to rush to her bedside because the end was near.

Neither of those novels ever went any further, but the year following my mother’s death I enrolled in the creative writing module of the honours course at my local university, and began a completely new work as my course writing project.

This later became From Daisy with Love, the novella that told the love story of my father’s parents and how they made it through the First World War. My father’s mother was orphaned young, and so was my own mother. Parents don’t feature much in my novels, especially not my parents. Most of my novels have a female protagonist who has been orphaned a long time before the novel begins. It seems that I want heroines who stand on their own and are able to travel far and wide in search of love and adventure.

But perhaps there’s another reason I seldom write about my parents or use them as models for the parents of any of my fictional characters.

This morning I read an excellent blog post by Vaughn Roycroft on Writer Unboxed. It was a Father’s Day tribute to his father, and both the post and many of the comments opened my eyes to several things. It’s a beautiful post and I strongly urge you to read it because he puts things way better than I can explain.

Part of me doesn’t want to share my parents with the world. They are now in my private memory and the memories of the people who knew them, and surely that’s no business of anyone else’s?

I never met my mother’s mother, I don’t remember much of my father’s parents, and the only grandparent I do remember died when I was ten. He was great fun, but like my parents, my mother’s father is now part of my private memory. I don’t want anything to interfere with the memories I have of any of those whom I knew.

However, the ones I never knew can become fair game in my writing because I don’t know what they were really like, so I can only imagine them anyway. Daisy and her boyfriend have become more real to me since I created an imagined life for them as youngsters during the First World War. I met my grandfather with new eyes when I read his war diaries and turned a page to see the words written in his small, neat handwriting, announcing that he was in the German South West African desert and it was his 21st birthday, only there was no one to help him celebrate it properly because all those he loved were far away.

I was forty-two when I read that – twice the age he was when he wrote it. To say that it fired up my imagination would be an understatement indeed.

And yet, perhaps all my loved ones are there in my writing, as Roycroft’s Writer Unboxed post points out. It all has to come from somewhere, doesn’t it?

In The Epidaurus Inheritance Zander speaks of his late parents with great fondness, and he has become a father figure to a younger cousin who rides a motorbike and occasionally stays over in Zander’s Athens apartment when he is too drunk to drive home safely.

There is a kindly old rascal of an uncle in Benicio’s Bequest who more than resembles my own rascally old grandfather who used to drive a steam train and get into all sorts of trouble and nonsense in his youth. The two brothers in that same novel are five years apart in age, and the story involves the younger one. Likewise, there are two brothers in Oxford Baggage, my current WIP, also born five years apart, and that story is also about the younger one.

My own father was the younger of two brothers, born five years apart. They were very different and they didn’t always get on, but a shared history between siblings can go a long way to smoothing that out.

My father was seven years older than my mother, as are the two main characters in Oxford Baggage. My parents married in the 1950s which is the era in which I have set this new work. I can’t help wondering how much more of them I’m going to find in my novel when I’ve finished writing it.

My modern-day protagonists in The Trojan Legacy are also six or seven years apart in age, and I wrote a glorious Christmas day celebration for them which included her parents and grandparents. Sadly I edited it out in the final draft because even though I loved the scene, it added nothing to the story and slowed down the pace going into the last quarter of the book. Such is the life of a writer…

To all readers out there who might no longer have parents with them, and who have mixed feelings about the celebration of days like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, I hope you are able to use these days to reflect positively on the lives of the generations before us, and the vast legacy of memories left to us.

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My Endless Quest to Recapture the Magic of Christmas

Last week a work colleague and I discussed how we had spent our respective Christmases this year. She has three sons and she said that they had really enjoyed it, which was the main thing.

It got me thinking about how magical Christmas had been when I was a child, and how we try every year to recapture that feeling, whether for our children or for ourselves. We frantically decorate trees and cakes, bake mince pies, play appropriate music, shop till we drop, overspending and pushing our credit cards beyond their normal elasticity. Working in retail, I’ve witnessed at first hand the frenzy of spending in the days leading to Christmas, but no matter how much effort we put into it, Christmas for adults never quite matches up to the magic it held for us as children.

The cynic in me knows now that the original Christian meaning of Christmas has been warped beyond all recognition, but as a child the juxtaposition of the fables and traditions surrounding this yearly event fell happily into place alongside each other. The birth of Jesus Christ, the story of generous Saint Nicholas, the pagan tree and Yuletide log – all of them snuggled up together, were added to by our parents, and are now coated in the rosy afterglow of our own fondly-remembered nostalgia. I’ve written elsewhere about my own family’s Christmas traditions.

Somehow, the long ago story of the Christ child born in a stable sat comfortably with the notion of a man in a red suit arriving on the roof in a sleigh drawn by eight reindeer. This strange man from the North Pole who dropped down our chimney with a sack full of toys was perfectly logical at the time, despite the fact that our chimney wasn’t very wide. It was magic, of course.

Once we realised who was masquerading as Father Christmas, things were still great, because we were children, we still got presents, and Christmas was fun. Even through high school, and during my three years at university when I still lived at home, we all loved the season and had a good time each Christmas.

In my early years of working, I enjoyed my first few Christmases, especially a spectacular one in the northern hemisphere, skiing in the Swiss alps with my boyfriend and his family. A magical Christmas-card Christmas that one was, surrounded by snow and log fires in our cosy wood-lined cabin, joined by various family and friends from around the world.

The following year that same boyfriend and I hosted the big family Christmas at our newly-bought house in Johannesburg. It was enormous fun and I knew that this was the pattern for the rest of my life: we would continue to host big family Christmas meals, enjoying lots of company and laughter, creating magical Christmases for the children we would one day have too…

Not so the next year. My wonderful boyfriend dumped me in August and by December I was barely back on my emotional feet. I think that was when Christmas started to become a little tarnished.

The next year was even worse. My father died in July and my sister got divorced in November. It was a sad, straggly family of survivors who got together on the 25th of December at my mother’s house and tried to pretend that all was merry and bright. It just wasn’t. My mother kept disappearing into the kitchen to “check the chicken” but once there she dissolved into tears, unable to cope with the first Christmas in twenty-eight years without her husband. My sister had reluctantly invited her ex-husband along for the day so that their children could have as normal a Christmas as possible. It was anything but normal and we were all relieved when the 26th dawned and it was finally over.

During the years when I lived in Cape Town, there followed three Christmases of utter loneliness that I still can’t bear to think about. I became a bit of a nomad after that, wandering around South Africa, wherever I could find work – mainly on touring big musicals. Career-wise it was a good move. Christmas-wise it was quite awful.

Things improved vastly when I settled in Durban, able to spend time with my mother and sister again. After my mother died, my sister filled the empty space and we had wonderful Christmases together until she and her second husband and their youngest child left for Australia. The following Christmas I spent with the remaining three of their grown up children, but by the next Christmas two more of them had moved overseas as well.

We still had a good Christmas, my oldest niece and I. For the first time in years we substituted the traditional Christmas pudding with a chocolate fondue instead. We still talk about it to this day. She’s been here on holiday for a few weeks now with her two sons, and we’ve had another big family Christmas in Australia.

So how was my Christmas this year? In the last few years I have come close to actually recapturing the magic of my childhood Christmases. Since I arrived in Australia, my Christmases have been fun-filled and family-filled. This year I moved into a cottage on my own and in December I unpacked my aged, beloved Christmas tree once more, and filled my new home with old memories, new decorations and magical hopes for the future.

I wish all my readers a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2019. May all your wishes magically come true!

Things I Have Discovered About My Mother

Today marks the tenth anniversary of my Mother’s death. Here’s a post I wrote about her back in January 2015, when I started packing to move to Australia. I still miss her…

The Scribbling Scribes

By Susan Roberts

s1I suppose I always took it for granted that I would one day become a mother, but somehow it never happened. This has something to do with the hours that I work, or maybe it’s because I grew up old-fashioned enough to believe that I needed a husband first. Over the years, the right candidate never appeared so I just got on with my life instead.

Not that I’m sorry I didn’t become a mother. My family will tell you that I was never particularly enamoured of kids. When I was grossed out by someone’s wailing brat or a dirty diaper, there was always a well-meaning relative to assure me that “it’ll be different when you have your own one day,” but they couldn’t see that there was a wary part of me that couldn’t imagine going through that with a permanent infant which I couldn’t hand…

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