Thursday, August 5, 2021

Not Drowning But Writing, by Catriona

 How has writing changed your life, and how has life changed your writing?

buy links

It's Jim's week, but we swapped because I've got a new book just out (see above) and I'm blogging relentlessly. One drawback to this plan, which I didn't foresee, is that most weeks I get a running start at my post from the Wednesday wisdom of Cathy Ace. So today felt a bit weird . . . until I read Dietrich's Wednesday post and realised it's the same deal with a different hairdo.

As Dietrich said yesterday, then, writing is so right for me that since I took it up I've never considered doing anything else. I'm a writer in every one of my daydreams, whether they're the road not taken from a point in the past, or the road ahead from where I am today.

Twenty years and some months ago, I had just resigned from (what US people would call) a tenure-track position at a decent university, where I was teaching the subject I had studied for nine years, through a masters degree and a PhD. I remember it with diamond clarity. January the 1st, 2001, (okay January the 3rd - I'm Scottish and we take two days off after Hogmanay to accomodate the hangovers/finish the shortbread) I sat down at my desk and wrote Chapter 1 at the top of a blank page. 

How has that day of typing and all the days since changed my life? Well, I got rid of lifelong imposter syndrome and found a clan of peers - other writers, readers, editors, publishers, bloggers, reviewers, librarians, and booksellers, who make me feel as at home as I do in my mum and dad's house with my sisters. (Any excuse to re-share this picture.)

Also, I didn't know it at the time but in 2001 I was headed towards another seven unsuccesful rounds of fertility treatment, bringing me to an eventual nine. I came out the other end still married, still delighting in other people's happiness at their own babies, still believing life could be good. Writing did that. 

As the indignities, hormone storms and heartbreak of those years wore on, I worked through the feelings in stories. You don't have to look very hard in my books to find the recurrent theme of the missing child, and then in later books the suddenly lost child, then the unexpectedly found child. The two things I didn't think I would ever be able to do is a. write a story without a lost child and b. write a story with  . . . a child. In a family. Just an adult having the normal experience of being a parent. I tried in THE CHILD GARDEN - no spoilers, but I failed pretty comprehensively. I tried again in HOUSE.TREE.PERSON and failed epically. 

But you know what? The fact that writing helps means that the writing helped. Eventually, in a short story, I did one of the two things. I wrote a mum of two kids in a plot about something else. Okay, the heroine was sort of based on my sister and that gave me a head start because she's got seven children, but I still did it. 

Now, in A GINGERBREAD HOUSE, I've done the other thing, Despite the title, this is a story where no POV adult is missing a child. Boom. Of course - I mean, look at the title! - this is a story where every adult is basically a lost child. Baby steps. Pun intended.



Ann said...

I knew this at some level, at least the part about the failed fertility treatments. One of the very first stories I remember you telling was about buying a Disney cake for a "wee girl because I knew I would never have one of my own."

Enjoy your nieces and nephews and grand-sames. And someday, post plague, I'll share my growing brood with you. xo

Catriona McPherson said...

Strange to think that little one will be almost grow-up now.

To explain: I saw a man in a supermarket looking at birthday cakes and counting the money in his pockets. I breenged in and played the childless-not-by-choice card so he'd let me pay for his wee girl's cake. Then I used it a springboard for THE DAY SHE DIED and still hope he never reads it!

Susan C Shea said...

THE DAY SHE DIED was a wonderful and memorable novel. There are so many things to love about you, Catriona, but your honesty and humor are right up there with your talent and generosity. When it comes to children, I think, really, that all children are our children, which should spur our efforts on their behalf. Yeah, I know you feel the same!