I know it’s been a long time, and my family and friends have been waiting patiently for the first book in the Jeffson Family Trilogy, but you know what they say – the best things in life are worth waiting for. I certainly hope Sunlight on Broken Glass will not disappoint.
The trilogy has been carefully and painstakingly crafted and honed since the beginning of 2002.
My father had passed away quite suddenly on 7th December 2001, leaving my mother feeling lonely and bereft, wondering how on earth she was going to live without him. She was only 69 – quite young to be a widow. She had always been very close to her auntie, Rita Crick, who had been widowed quite a few years previously. When my dad was alive they used to visit her regularly and mum used to joke that if ever they fell out, she would “just go and live with Auntie Rita”.
It wasn’t long before Auntie Rita had taken Mum under her wing and her family (mum’s cousins – Barbara and Kevin and their families) began to include her in their family gatherings. Between us all we helped to ease Mum into a new kind of life without Dad. Auntie Rita and Mum had lunch at Mum’s bungalow on Tuesday lunchtimes and it wasn’t long before I began to turn up, too – for my baked potatoes with crust (a Kettering delicacy), mashed potatoes and mushy peas. Delicious.
One day, Auntie Rita began reminiscing about her childhood. I was fascinated and so was Mum, because the anecdotes and sometimes eyebrow-raising revelations included her mother, too – my Grandma – who had passed away in 1996. We decided to write it all down the next week.
I turned up with enthusiasm, a pen and a new notebook – writers don’t need much of an excuse to buy a new notebook. I was so late going back to work that day, I had to lie to my boss that my car wouldn’t start and make the time up over the rest of the week!
My daughter got married in July 2002, and at her wedding reception Auntie Rita said to me: “you know, I’d like to write my memoirs – properly so when I pop off everyone can read them”. Auntie Rita always talked about dying as if it was no more than popping off to the corner shop to buy a loaf of bread!
I loved Tuesday lunchtimes. Soon, it became Saturday afternoons, too. Then the pair of them began to live together – half a week at Mum’s bungalow and the other half of the week at Auntie Rita’s house. Barbara, Kevin and I were always ferrying them back and forth but we didn’t mind because they loved each others company so much.
Months turned into a year, and then the year turned into two … and so on. After a couple of years I had something like 70,000 words of random memories on my computer, but they were in no particular life order – just a series of anecdotes and stories. We had also become too pernickety about detail, trying to make sure everything was remembered correctly. I said something like: “you know what, Auntie Rita, it doesn’t matter about the detail if we write it as a novel. We can even leave out the bad bits that upset you and pretend it all didn’t happen.”
It was then we began to have lots of fun with many “what ifs”. Auntie Rita had lots of tragedies in her life and some of the memories were very painful. I think a part of her wanted to keep them in the story, but another side of her wanted to explore the “what ifs” with me. The “what ifs” won in the end, although I did keep the notes of all the tragedies and in one way or another they appear in various forms throughout the trilogy, but with fictitious characters bearing the brunt!
In 2005, we couldn’t believe it when we realised that about four years had passed and we were still writing her life story! Mum loved it too, chipping in where she could and filling in gaps from things my grandma had told her.
In 2006, the whole thing got too big – and I knew it was going to have to be a novel. We thought long and hard about names and decided to change some of them. Characters who were still alive were asked what they wanted to be called in the novels – for instance my Auntie Barbara wanted to be called “Eileen” because when she was a little girl, she always called her dolls Eileen. Auntie Rita wanted to be called “Daisy” because Uncle Harry used to sing “Bicycle Made for Two” to her when they were courting.
Auntie Rita always worried about Mum and used to constantly whisper to me about what I should do to help her through the tough time she was expecting Mum to go through when she “popped off”. However, life does like to throw little eccentricities our way from time to time, and little did she know that Mum would go first.
On 1st December 2006 my beautiful, perfect mother passed away. I think the last image she saw before she lost consciousness was my Auntie Rita’s time-worn, life-battered, heartbroken face as she sat by her bedside in Cransley Hospice.
And so it was with heavy hearts Auntie Rita and I carried on with the story – but now the ending was going to have to be re-written.
On 19th June 2007, I printed out a first draft of a manuscript for us to go through. It was a Saturday and in the midst of one of the worst thunderstorms this country has ever seen, I drove round to Auntie Rita’s house to spend the afternoon with her and my then two year-old grandson, Tyler.
I couldn’t get in. I peered through the front window. The TV was on and the back door was open. I shouted through the letterbox. By then I was soaked through and very worried. I had rung her about an hour or so previously and she knew what time I would be there. I got back into my car and rang Auntie Barbara. I won’t go into details, but Auntie Rita had suffered a stroke while preparing her dinner and was lying on the kitchen floor. She eventually passed away in August 2007.
Tyler’s earliest memory is the blue flashing lights of the ambulance. Luckily, that awful memory has dragged with it beautiful memories of “Mam-ma and, Mam-ma Rita”. He’s nearly ten now, and he says he can remember how much they both loved him.
So here we are at last. Sunlight on Broken Glass will be published as an e-book on 1st December with the paperback on 12th December. The first manuscript was so long it has had to be split into a trilogy. Because she wasn’t here to ask, I have had to make some decisions about what to leave in and what to leave out. I’ve had to create characters to emphasise and bring to life some of the plots and sub-plots. I have had to craft and paint these three novels to bring Auntie Rita’s story alive in my readers’ imaginations.
I hope I have done her proud.