So, Mother’s Day happened this Sunday. Although there’s not much of a fuss about it here in Cyprus, I keep a track on UK based radio and more often than not I manage to organize for flowers to be delivered to my Mum on time. At the very latest they might arrive the following day. This year I managed to apologise for missing Mother’s Day in a panic a week ahead of the event, so I was well organised by the time it actually came around. But the celebration of mothers in this way, especially when I am so far from mine, got me thinking. Specifically it got me thinking about being a Mum, something I cannot yet call myself, and the reason why I started writing My Sister in the first place.
You see, when I set out to write My Sister it was with one main aim; to tell the story of a woman who decided to give her child away. And ultimately that’s what My Sister became. Although we are submerged in Irini’s world years after the event, and dealing with her interaction with her destructive sister, Elle, the story is at its most basic, about their mother. By sharing Irini’s journey of discovery we learn the painful truth of her mother's past.
My Sister opens when Irini receives a telephone call from her sister to tell her that their mother has died. For me it was the only way to open, because so often a mother who has been faced with giving her child for adoption carries with her an untold story, their voice lost somewhere along the way. Often information isn’t passed on, or perhaps withheld because of a misguided belief that the truth could be painful. These mothers often have no opportunity to tell their side of the story, either because of social or personal pressures. That’s why it was so important that the story of Irini and Elle’s mother in My Sister reflected this, while at the same time uncovered the truth of Irini’s departure from the family home.
My desire to tell this story comes from a very personal place; I myself am on a similar journey, as my husband and I have been following a path to adoption for the last few years. While we have had some unfortunate and upsetting bumps in our journey, we are hopeful that we are nearing the time when we are able to increase the size of our family. Although there is still a long way to go, and potentially many miles to travel, including to a country we have never even visited, it feels as if we are one step closer to bringing our child home. But that too means that there is already a mother out there who is trying to decide whether she can or cannot raise her child on her own. Whether she has the means to clothe him, feed him, or provide him with shelter. Whether or not she can keep him safe. She is trying to decide whether I am a better option, a woman whom she has never met, and whose name she might never have the opportunity to know. It also means that I am one step closer to the day when my child might ask me about the woman who had to make that choice, and what significance that has on him and his life.
This woman, the first mother of my child, will remain intrinsically linked to my life, my husband’s life, and that of our child for many years to come. I hope that through our own adoption journey I will find a way to give a voice to the woman who chose to entrust her child to me. I do not want to wipe her out of my child’s past, or pretend that my child’s life starts the day we turn up. I hope that we are able to find a way to raise our child with respect for the woman who gave him life, and who had the courage to hope for something better.
Busy doesn’t quite cut it. Last week I delivered a synopsis to my agent, revised a second synopsis that I had delivered the week before, and wrote the first chapter of a new book. This wasn’t the ethereal book three I was supposed to be planning, but another book which arose from a conversation I had with my agent that started something along the lines of, ‘You know what I’d really like to write?’, and ended up with me committing to write two books simultaneously. I also finished the first 45,000 words of the expected third book, which I started editing this morning. So much is happening in the day to day order of things it is easy to forget the things going on in the background without my direct input. I remember only when a third party asks how long away it is until the book comes out. The Book. That’s when I remember. My Sister, now only a month away from being published.
This day has been a long time coming. The book first sold to Headline almost eighteen months ago, and it was picked up (along with me) by my agent months before that. I started looking for an agent about three months before I got signed, and started writing My Sister (which had a different title back then which I’m too embarrassed to commit to print) about a year before that. So what’s that? Three years in the making? And now the day is actually tangible. It’s no longer in a couple of years. It’s not next year, either. It’s next month. It’s actually right around the corner, and to be honest, I can’t quite believe it.
But it's not been at all like how people say things go fast when you are enjoying yourself. It hasn’t gone fast at all. It feels like a long time ago that I started writing My Sister, to the point that it almost feels strange to think about a time when I wasn’t writing it, spending my day with these two sisters who can’t seem to catch a break. Back then writing was still a hobby and while I hate that word, that’s what it was. It never felt like that to me, but I did it when I could, outside of working hours, and it didn’t pay the bills. But now it has become a job. There are people waiting on my work, for me to finish on time, and get it right. The deadlines are no longer self imposed. I remember the first time an agent asked to see my manuscript and I knew it wasn’t quite ready. I put in three long days of fifteen hours each for one last run through and lost my voice from reading the whole thing aloud. I thought that was pretty insane back then. Crazy stuff. Now days like those feel increasingly like the norm.
But it’s not just when it's coming out that people want to know. People ask me how I feel about publication being so close. And in all honesty I don’t know what to tell them. I’m excited, yes, but anxious too. I hear of other authors enjoying release day and the hitting the bestseller lists the next day, and that makes me way more nervous than the thought of the impending reviews. I used to be self published so I’m used to people having something to say about my work. If I’m lucky some people will love this book, but I'm ready for the inevitable fact that others will hate it. That’s OK by me. It better be because it's not like I get a choice about what they think. But what I really don’t want is to let down the people who have trusted me and my work.
I think back to the me I was as a writer a few years ago and how life has changed. So many awesome things have happened since then; an agent who said yes (they exist!) and an editor who called me up to discuss the book she’d just bought. I was like a rabbit in the headlights, and was sure she would hang up and wonder what the hell she had done. Artwork and proof copies and nights out in London to ‘meet people’. To chat with people who work for magazines I read, who have copies of my book on their desks. Seriously, like what? And perhaps more than all of that to know that next month there will be an article in the Guardian written by me, giving me a chance to raise awareness about a subject so close to my heart.
I have no idea how to put what I feel about all of this into words, but I’m pretty excited to see what the next month will bring. Just one month until my biggest childhood dream comes true. The strange thing is that I’m pretty sure it can’t top what’s already happened. Just enjoy it, people tell me. So that's what I'll do, It sounds like great advice.
Sometimes I come up with ideas and turn them into books. This blog is about everything else.
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My Sister book review on writing.iw