THE WHITE CUCKOO – THE BIRTH OF A NOVEL
Chapter Two: No Paper, No Pen
Rule No. 44672 in the Writers’ Rules states that Writers should never leave home without the basic tools of their trade – a small notebook and something to write with.
‘Tips for a stress-free day in the capital of this wonderful country’ indicates that unessential accessories should not be carried in a handbag and even the handbag is considered by some to be unessential. Well – that was fine by me. In fact, it was more than just fine. When I was sixteen I used to pride myself on stuffing money in my jeans pocket, a comb in my back pocket and leaving everything else at home, in my future hubby’s pocket or in a friend’s handbag.
Uh-oh. We had a slight problem. The White Cuckoo could have fluttered and died, right there in the Natural History Museum, and become as completely extinct as the Dodo we had just admired.
I was too lazy to cart my heavy handbag I didn’t want to risk taking my handbag to London, which contained several very interesting examples of the basic tools of a writers’ trade amongst a few other fascinating objects. (If you want a more lurid description of the horrors that lurk in the bottom of my handbag, Tammy in The White Cuckoo carries one just like it – coincidentally.) One look at Grandad’s face when he scrutinised the receipt for the food told me it was probably not the best time in the world to ask if anyone had a pen so I could write something on the back of it.
Over lunch, I was a bit quiet – the creative side of my brain was firing off ideas like a machine gun. Could this interesting snippet of a conversation be nudged gently into the plot of a book I was currently working on? Going Back had started its life as Sunlight on Broken Glass but its title was snatched rudely from beneath its feet as it slept. It was then stolen away for good by its ruthless author who, at the time, was on one of the blanked off roads to publication by a big publisher. (Details in the archive on the right hand side if you are interested in how this happened.)
I glanced over at the family-tree-stealing woman. Nah … she didn’t provide me with inspiration. She was not my character. She didn’t look even remotely like a tree-stealer. I started chatting to my family, not wanting to appear antisocial, and the memory of the conversation began to trickle through the holes in my fifty-something brain like water dripping through a colander.
‘Anyone got a bit of paper I can write on?’ I said casually, before the drips stopped.
‘What for? said hubby.
‘Nothing, really. Just an idea,’ I mumbled.
‘Here,’ said my daughter, tearing off a scrap of paper from something in her handbag.
‘Err … and a pen?’
The pen miraculously appeared before I had finished the sentence.
I wrote something like this: “Natural History Museum Restaurant Queue – overheard conversation on researching someone else’s family tree. Own family not happy.”
I stuffed the paper into my trouser pocket, content to let the memory of the eavesdropped conversation drip away from my brain and concentrate on the rest of the day out in London.
In the afternoon we took the tube to Covent Garden, where Tyler was captivated by the street performers, especially when his dad joined in with helping the juggler. I can tell you, there was no prouder three-year old in the world, and just looking at his little face was enough to bring a tear to my eye as I took this photograph. This memory will endure for many years, I hope, as he relates it to his children, and their children, and hopefully they will all know that this was the day his grandmother first thought of the idea that was to become The White Cuckoo.
Emily was pregnant when we went to London, and as we sat having a last drink in Covent Garden before heading home, it was inevitable we would talk about the lovely family day we had just spent. Even when taking the extortionate London prices into consideration, between us, the cost had not been that great. We speculated on the sex of the baby, and talked about my mum, who sadly would never see her new grandchild, or those that came afterwards.
On her deathbed, five years ago, my mum’s last ever conversation was with Emily, who was attempting to say her final goodbye to her much-loved grandma. As the eldest grandchild, Emily and my mum had always shared a wonderful bond. My mum’s final words to Emily were this:-
“You know Emily, we are like the flowers. When one bloom dies, another takes its place in the world. My flower on our family tree is dying but one day you will have a daughter and she will bloom in my place. As long as the tree is alive, no one in the family can really die because there will always be other buds forming and other flowers to come.”
Emily sobbed as her heart broke. She pleaded with her grandma to let her know, somehow, that she was safe and with Grandad (who had passed away five years previously). Grandma promised. In all her life, she had prided herself on never, ever breaking a promise to a child. To her, Emily would forever be a child, even though she was a mother herself. (The first British serial rights to The Yellow Balloon have been sold to My Weekly. The story has not yet appeared, but when it does you will be able to read it in the magazine.)
Anyway – I digress. Back in Covent Garden, Emily was confiding in me that she was really worried her baby would not be a girl, but only because it would shatter her steadfast belief in her grandma’s rather lovely final words to her. She, herself, had no preference as to the sex of her unborn child. I had to sympathise, because I knew those lovingly-spoken words meant so much to Emily, but I tried to give her some words of comfort.
‘Look at me, Emily,’ I said. ‘I ended up with three children – it could happen at any time in the future. Grandma didn’t say anything about your next child being a girl, did she?’
Emily shook her head, unconvinced. ‘In a way, I wish we had found out at the scan,’ she said. ‘At least I would know one way or the other.’
I felt a tiny tug on my heartstrings as my brain connected with the scrap of paper in my pocket. My mum’s family tree vision was so pure and lovely, it couldn’t be wasted, could it?
Postscript to Chapter Two: Sophie Rose Ireson-Vaughan was born on 11th March 2009. First great-granddaughter of Margaret Rose Beasley (1932-2006).
Next instalment: 25th May.