Friday, 7 March 2014

An Extraordinary Woman for International Women's Day: The Muse At My Shoulder

I have been putting together twenty six of my short stories for publication, to be called Forms of Flight (See sidebar here...). 

As I re-read the stories and decided how to arrange them in the volume it dawned on me how much of my writing, in short and long form,  is concerned with people who face their fears and take on the world but also some  people who take flight from difficult lives - in reality and also in the interior world of  imagination   fantasy and even madness,

At the same time I have been casting around for someone to write about on International Women's day. 

In my search for such a heroine I ended up very close to home with a post written by me  on my mother's birthday in 2008. Although she lived in a small town and, becoming widowed,  lived a hard life,she was always acutely aware of the world outside her narrow window, of the international scene represented by the globe in our small front room.* 

So for International Women's Day  here is my post about an extraordinary woman who has always been the muse at my shoulder.

Barbara With Grahame
In her prime, with G.

'...Although we were (are?) very different personalities, I have inherited many things from my mother Barbara ...

There is this desire to run away, expressed in the delight in travel. For her, with a family of four to bring up on her own and no resources, this was confined to books, maps and the globe of the world. Then things became just a bit easier and in her fifties she went to Denmark on her own. After that, year by year, she travelled further and further.

I was in my thirties when I started. Paris first. Then Moscow, (The location of my new novel  Journey to Moscow: The adventures of Olivia Ozanne. Barbra would have approved of Olivia...)

Then different parts of America. Then Italy. Then the far East. Then New Zealand. Then Poland.

Then back to France. Always France.

Being imbued with the Puritan work ethic Barbara would have approved of the fact that much of my travelling has been about the writing of novels. Evidence for this would be the working titles for some of my novels: for example, The Russian Novel (Journey to Moscow: The Adventures of Olivia Ozanne  ; the Singapore Novel (Long Journey Home); The Polish Novel (The Woman Who Drew Buildings); The London Novel (The Lavender House). Honesty’s Daughter was, for a time ‘The American Novel’. And The French Novel (An Englishwoman in France)

Sadly, Barbara was only here on earth to read my first novel Lizza in printer’s proofs. But in all these travels - in all this writing – she has been at my shoulder.

Although it is fiction, Lizza is based on a fragile sliver of Barbara’s young life.‘I stayed up all night reading it, love,’ she said, when she read the proofs. ‘Couldn’t stop. Do you know that foreman? Well his real name was …’

I had invented him, name and all.  It seemed that much of my pure invention was real
Which brings me to another of my bequests from Barbara: some kind of psychic acuity. Her oldest sister was a full blown medium but Barbara herself was highly sensitive. 

This psychic acuity probably explains why - as I write - I hear my characters talking, see them walking.  It could explain the fact that when I’ve written about a place – even a place thousands of miles away - and checked it out later, I find that it’s already there, in my drafting book.

This psychic predisposition is there as a kind of ‘sleeper’ in many of my novels, and with my  ‘French Novel’ An Englishwoman in France I have come out and centred the narrative on the psychic predispositions of my character Stella and the way she relates to space and time. New departure! It’s been great to write.

I’ve benefited from other bequests from Barbara –a love of the realities of history, a cherishing of the resonance of the spoken word, an innate story telling gene – all these would merit further stories here.

But an important bequest worth mentioning has been Barbara’s role model as a Barbara in Uniformworking mother with little regard for the domestic side of life. This has allowed me to write rather than dust, to make stories rather than make the bed. It has stood me in good stead all my working life and been instrumental in the production of so many novels.

However for now the greatest bequest to me is her continuing presence around me and her pleasure, through time, at what has happened in my life – my new novels and stories , my good teaching, my extraordinary family...'

Perhaps for International Women's Day we should all celebrate and honour those precious heroines close at hand.'

(*I have also written elsewhere on LTT about that globe ...) 


  1. We don't appreciate just how extraordinary the 'ordinary' people around us are until it's too late.
    Here's to all the ordinary women on Inter national Women's Day!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Gillian. Wise as always.

  3. What a great tribute to your mother (and it makes me want to go hug my own Mother.)

  4. I hope you gave her that hug, Angela. But we all have our unique way of paying tribute to our special people,.



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