JACQUELINE: When Rhys asked if I would like to be a guest blogger on Jungle Red Writers, it took me no time at all to tap out an email in reply: “I’d love to!” I said. So here I am, and it’s great to be here.
I’ve always been interested in where stories come from, how a germ of an idea ignites in a writer’s mind and then takes hold until it sparkles with possibility. And sometimes it’s a pretty small event that starts the ball rolling, something you almost miss, but you don’t because you’re paying attention – a chance meeting in a shop, or something seen while on a train in another city. Perhaps that’s why I love just walking around without a map when I’m in a place for the first time – I can feel myself tingling with anticipation, wondering what might cross my path to light a fire that becomes another story.
It was over twenty-five years ago that I came across a book that would go on to inspire my new novel, The Care and Management of Lies. At the time I was working in academic publishing – which, in case you don’t know, has as much in common with general book publishing as flower arranging has with explosives. My job involved visiting professors in university science departments to introduce them to the company’s products, in addition to perhaps getting them to write textbooks, on subjects as riveting as, say, compiler design, or electronic control systems, or biochemistry, or magnetic imaging. Yeah, can’t wait to read them, can you?
It was a pretty intense job with little time outside work, however, when a friend asked me if I would join her in running a weekends-only stall on London’s Portobello Road, I said yes immediately – anything for a break from academia! We sold art deco pottery and china, as well as costume jewelry from the same era – and we had a blast! However, the enterprise needed new stock constantly, so I would occasionally go to jumble sales (rummage sales) on a Saturday instead of the market – and I would look for gems amongst other people’s throwaways, items we could resell on the stall. It was during one of these forays that I came across a copy of The Woman’s Book, published in 1911.
The book was battered and torn, the cover was hanging on by threads and the pages were foxed. But it was the inscription that took my breath away, for the book had been given to a young woman on the occasion of her marriage, just one month before the outbreak of WW1 – a war that became the first defining human tragedy of the fledgling twentieth century. And as I read that inscription, I wondered what had happened to the young couple. Had the husband marched away to war and been killed? Had he returned wounded and shell-shocked? And what of the young woman – had she been widowed before even knowing a year of marriage? I could not stop thinking about the woman who had received this book.
Over time, my imaginings began to take shape, and soon I’d given the young couple names – Kezia and Tom. Kezia was my great-grandmother’s name, and I loved it. I gave them a home in Kent – it’s where I was born and raised, a place always in my heart. Other characters gatecrashed the story and I allowed them in – the oh-so passionate Thea, and honorable Edmund. I loved creating Kezia’s father, who becomes an army chaplain, and even though she has only a small part, Kezia’s mother is a woman who sets her boundaries with ease. Then Tom goes to war.
I never thought I would write my novel inspired by The Women’s Book, but there came a time when I knew I must, so the fact that The Care and Management of Lies will be published on July 1st is a milestone for me. When I first had that idea I was in my mid-twenties, a young woman with a dream of being a writer who didn’t quite know how to go about it, except to write, I suppose. Frankly, it took me a long time to stick my neck out and try to get my work in print – I was in my mid-forties when Maisie Dobbs was published. So, I suppose that when I see the first bound copy of my new novel, it will be quite an emotional time for me – you see, when I think back to the moment I picked up that copy of The Women’s Book, I never imagined I would one day be a published author writing about where stories come from on a blog alongside authors I so admire.
So, dear reader, if I had just one piece of advice for you – when you have that idea for a story, get to it and start work. Now.
And thank you Rhys, and everyone at Jungle Red Writers for inviting me along today!
The Care and Management of Lies will be in stores and winging its way to your Kindle, Nook etc on July 1.