I am very, very thrilled to hear that my novel, The Dangers of Family Secrets, has been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Contemporary Novel of 2017 Award!
Pity the poor e-book reader whose life holds no tangible evidence of books read and loved and books yet to enjoy.
My childhood mentors were E. Nesbit and Noel Streatfield. Their fictional children were bolshy and wilful and rarely blessed with good looks, perfect role models for a child with an appalling haircut and a fatal desire to please. Later, I moved on to Georgette Heyer who remains a great antidote to low spirits, Agatha Christie, and Margaret Irwin whose historical novels gave me my choice of subject at university.
In my student years I loved D.H.Lawrence. I thought he was very wise which shows what a very unreconstructed female I was. Now I love the American authors Ann Patchett, Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Strout: they show with great skill the vulnerability of each and every one of us. It is liberating to realize that there is no-one who has all the answers.
I love the sound of this title: hey, folks, I’m getting to grips with Twitter! Until a few weeks ago, I was a Twitter virgin and now, thanks to a tutorial from my daughter, Rosie, I can tweet and re-tweet and like and put up photos, and , yes, I am getting to grips with Twitter in the same way that on the only occasion in my life when I (temporarily) caught a fish, I got to grips with an unbelievably slimy and slippery mackerel.
Here is what I’ve learnt about Twitter:
1: I still don’t quite understand the concept of hashtags. However, it’s undoubtedly true that #DebbyHolt sounds far more important than Debby Holt does.
2: It is quite enjoyable but undeniably time-consuming trying to fit my thought for the day into 240 characters. I spend far too long trying to decide whether to delete a “very” or a “rather”.
3: On Twitter, journalists opine and comedians are funny. I’m still not sure what authors are supposed to bring to the table. We can’t keep talking about our working day. “Spent twenty minutes this morning watching cars drive past my window…” doesn’t quite work.
4: It’s great when a tweet gets a response. Hard to believe, I know, but some of my tweets do not, and then I feel like a guest at a terrifying party where everyone but me is being quite fascinating while I stand by a rubber plant in the corner and smile vaguely at the wallpaper.
5: Wouldn’t Oscar Wilde have been brilliant at this?
On Sunday, I was at Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott. I first visited the place a few years ago when I was on holiday in the Scottish Borders. I knew very quickly that I wanted to write a novel set partly in the area and that somehow Sir Walter had to be involved.
As part of my research, I read the journal he wrote in the last seven years of his life. When he began it in 1825, he was wealthy and famous, the most celebrated author in the world. Then, in 1826, everything went wrong. His publishers, of whom Scott was a partner, faced bankruptcy, and Scott vowed that he would clear all the debts by the efforts of his pen. Then, in May, his wife died. The journal, begun with such optimism, became a chronicle of his deteriorating health and his vastly expanding workload.
What is extraordinary is the warmth and humour and kindness that shine through the pages. Here is Scott in 1827: “Workd in the morning as usual…Some things of the black dog still hanging about me but I will shake him off. I generally affect good spirits in company of my family whether I am enjoying them or not. It is too severe to sadden the harmless mirth of others by suffering your own causeless melancholy to be seen. And this species of exertion is like virtue its own reward for the good spirits which are at first simulated become at length real.”
I defy anyone to read his journal and not fall a little in love with him.
I’ve been thinking about secrets lately. It seems to me that, at least in personal relationships, what makes them so powerful is not the secrets themselves but the act of concealing them. It is that act that changes the balance and alters the equilibrium because one partner knows something the other does not.
In Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal, Jerry has a long affair with his best friend Robert’s wife, Emma; Jerry, the betrayer, feels betrayed in turn when he discovers that Robert knows about the affair.
It seems to me that secrets are pretty dangerous and best avoided whenever possible. Look at the two great scandals of the twentieth century if you don’t agree. The Profumo affair almost brought down Macmillan’s government and certainly fatally wounded it. If John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, hadn’t lied to Parliament about his affair with nineteen-year-old Christine Keeler, history might have been very different.
With Watergate, it was not the fact that burglars broke into Democratic Party HQ that did for President Nixon, it was the increasingly desperate cover-up that he and his aides tried to orchestrate. A simple, straightforward apology would have been far more effective.
I will not conceal the reason for this particular blog. My eighth novel, The Dangers of Family Secrets is published by Accent Press on June 29. Its subject is the pernicious effects of long-buried secrets on a couple, Felix and Freya, and their twin daughters. Freya is a genealogist and my novel has been partly inspired by friends who’ve uncovered fascinating stories about their ancestors online.
All families have their secrets. It’s how they deal with them that makes them interesting.
I’m aware I haven’t posted for a while. To be honest, the world’s in such a sorry state at present that I’ve found inspiration difficult. My mood wasn’t helped after I finished reading “Sapiens”, a stunningly brilliant book by Yuval Noah Harari. He shows us how humans became the dominant species on our planet and he makes it clear that we should not feel too proud of this. Our history is a violent one: we’re cruel to each other and we’re even more cruel to all the other species on the planet.
This morning I went to the gym and, while dolefully plodding on the running machine, I watched Breakfast News. An interview was carried out with two young men who’d run in the London Marathon. They’d both been near the finishing line. One stopped when he saw the other was about to fall from exhaustion. He then helped him to struggle across to the finishing line and thus gave up his chance to win a PB – I have NO idea what a PB is, but it obviously means a lot. Anyway, both men were sweet and self-effacing and made me cry, (not a good thing when you’re on a running machine.)
Walking home, I realized – not for the first time in my life – that despite all the misery and greed and violence in the world, there are many people who are kind and thoughtful. And then I thought of the lovely weekend I’d just had with my sister, Aleda. I recalled the Skype call from youngest son Charlie last night and the conversation I’d had with oldest grand-daughter, Lyra: “Granny, you sound far more sensible in your books than you do in real life.”
In other words, it is always important to remember the many people we know or we read about who lighten our lives. As Winston Churchill said, “I am an optimist. It doesn’t seem too much use being anything else.”