While staring at that pesky blinking cursor, waiting for my muse to arrive so I could start this blog, I received a lovely email from a reader asking when my third ‘book baby’ is due. I’d heard the term before—seen memes likening finishing a novel to giving birth.
Books and babies; both represent the best parts of my day. I’ve done both three times and I’m not sure I’m on board with the metaphor. Would that, by extension, make publishers the book’s midwife, and publicists the nanny … making sure it behaves?
I can see the parallels—both are all consuming. Both become part of you (to be judged on forevermore) and teach us about ourselves. They take you on an emotional roller-coaster, keep you up at night, and riddle you with self-doubt. But as for finishing a book being like labour? I’ve never endured physical pain from writing (if you have, I think you’re doing it wrong).
Books are far more patient—willing to wait until you are in the mood for them (unlike babies that arrive when they please, and children who hunt you down ‘til you cave to their demands). I have mental closure after finishing a book (a mind-exorcism to make room for new characters), but I’m yet to ‘move on’ from my kids. They’re all still hovering noisily inside my head (and in my kitchen).
Writing a book is a rather self-absorbed luxurious experience with no limits imposed. You’re in total control of every aspect, whereas parents are rarely in full control (or maybe that’s just me?), required to be selfless and compromise their needs for that of their kids.
But thinking of children as our stories—that I get.
As a writer, I’m allowed to influence and create fictitious lives. As a mum, every day writes a page in my children’s own real-life stories. Every day has a clean slate—a new page, yet inextricably linked to the last and, no doubt, impacting on the next. Each scene that plays out for my kids paints a picture of who they are, what their character arc will show, just like my fictitious characters (although the later are more malleable).
Losing Kate, (my first ‘book baby’, if I must) is about a young girl who disappears on a beach during an end-of-school camping trip. It tells of her fate and that of those left behind—namely, her two best friends, Frankie and Jack (who meet thirteen years later and, you guessed it, fall in love). My second novel, Missing You, is a little edgier, and the third, even darker. Just like my sons’ personalities, all three novels are different from each other, even though they spawned from the same beginnings.
With both books and babies, we have no idea what we’re in for. We get clues—genre primes us for certain expectations, a baby’s temperament may hint at what kind of kid we’ll be wrangling. But in both cases, we never know for sure how things will unfurl. That’s half the fun.
Some books, like kids, are just like their jackets: a sentimental romance springing from a flowery cover. But occasionally life throws us a curve ball; an adoring-eyed baby morphs into a challenging toddler, terrorising your belongings and absconding in public. But we expected an easy read. The blurb didn’t mention this! Like books, parenting can feel like reading the same page over and over. Sometimes you just want a moment to rest from the constant dialogue and relentless action.
Like antagonists in fiction, often parents fumble in their role, struggle being the support cast instead of the hero, and try to wedge their own narrative into their kids’ lives (what do you mean you don’t like cricket!?). Parents are sometimes miscast—the ballerina may have a brood of boys who fart at the table, while the football-loving dad raises a chess champ who likes to code. But that’s the way it goes in this complex existence we call the human condition.
My children are the best stories of my life. I can’t plot their stories for them. All I can do is enrich each scene with care, and hope for a happy ending
Photo by Janko Ferlic from Pexels