I love the beginning of the year. Full of optimism and new energy, I charge through January trying to make things happen! This year my main focus so far has been my Mum’s writing. I wrote this article recently for a warm and wonderful Facebook group of English speaking Mums who live in France. As it is a closed group I wasn’t able to share the article, and so here it is on my blog. This is not the first time I’ve written about Mum, and I’m sure it won’t be the last – but it is a fairly detailed tale of her blossoming new writing career, and how it all began… Hope you enjoy it!
My Mum, Pat Garwood
My Mum is currently writing her third novel, and is a bit of an inspiration!
She started her career as a child actress – she was one of the schoolchildren in the classic Ealing Comedy – The Lavender Hill Mob, and worked in the West End Theatre and on TV and radio throughout her school years.
She met my Dad, Jeremy Paul, when she was just 18 and playing Wendy in Peter Pan at the Scala Theatre in the West End. It was a fairy tale case of love at first sight! He was in his first year at Oxford University, but having sold his first play while still a student, he left Oxford, they got married and I came along when she was just 21.
They were happily married for more than 50 years and I was lucky enough to grow up with my three younger sisters in the most loving, interesting, warm and supportive family. As a playwright, Dad worked from home, so he was always present throughout my childhood with his wisdom and boundless generosity.
My mum started writing in her forties and the first book she wrote, Walnuts, was inspired by our family life and the ups and downs of her friends and neighbours. However, she was juggling family life with her professional life and coupled with the vast expense (in those pre-digital days) of copying and sending out manuscripts to agents and editors, it proved too daunting to seek out a publisher, so she ended up putting it in the loft.
About twelve years later she had a vivid and extraordinary dream… about a Victorian family, living on a remote Cornish island. The dream became the prologue to Keyne Island, and the desire to write this tale of intrigue, love, money and deceit was so overwhelming that it demanded to be written! As with her first book though, once completed, Keyne Island didn’t find a publisher – and also made it’s way to the loft!
Mum continued working as an actress, taking chunks of time out to look after us four girls, and choosing carefully the kind of work she did. As we were growing up she did mainly TV work, including a few years playing Beryl in the popular sit-com No Place Like Home. However, as we all left home one by one, she felt free to take on more theatre and touring work.
Dad first got ill in 1989, just before Joe and I got married. He had cancer of the stomach, but after massive and brilliant surgery, (no need even for chemo) he recovered, always a slimmer version of himself, but as creative and inspiring as ever.
The cancer snuck back in 2011, and he died aged only 71, within a few months of re-diagnosis. Mum was amazing – such an incredible example to everyone around her. She decided fairly quickly after his death to move to a smaller house. As she sorted through the years worth of stored possessions, trying to get all her affairs in order, she came across a pdf version she’d had made of Keyne Island along with the boxed up paper manuscripts of both books. She suddenly thought how nice it would be for each of us girls to have a copy for posterity, and attached it to an email, not even expecting us to read it any time soon.
I had the idea to make a one-off hardback copy for her as a present, to mark the amazing achievement of having written it, and have the satisfaction of seeing her work in print. I did a bit of research and discovered the brilliant lulu.com and started the self-publishing adventure. The original intention was never to think beyond a few copies for the close family, but as I re-read the novel I was completely bowled over by its originality and bold themes – although set in repressive Victorian England, the book explores homosexuality and cross-dressing, and felt so fresh and unusual. It seemed to me that this was a story well worth sharing, if only I knew how!
Needless to say, Mum was very chuffed with the book when it arrived, and between us we decided to put it into the public domain – we printed a paperback edition and made an e-book available too. All versions are now available on Amazon or Lulu.
Inspired and emboldened by the responses from friends and family, Mum decided to revisit Walnuts, the first book she had written. She wondered if it would have any relevance thirty years on? She decided it definitely did; technology may have changed the way we communicate and connect – but love and family, infidelity… and death …remain pretty unchanged!
What followed was a really satisfying collaboration where Mum would rework each chapter and send it to my sisters and me to read – we would check its relevancy within the technological world we live in today and also that it chimed with our own children’s experiences – and she would adjust accordingly. We were careful not to interfere with creative suggestions – our role was very clearly just about spot-checking for any inconsistencies. She, of course, was totally re-working every chapter as she went through, and there were some small but significant changes to plot and characters.
It was such a satisfying process! Harry designed a classy Pat Garwood website, I started a Facebook page and Twitter profile, Joe designed the book covers and I launched myself into promotion and sales – an area I had never explored before. It has been a journey all of us have been involved in, and one of my biggest pleasures in this whole process has been seeing Mum find who she is as a widow – when so much of her life was spent in a partnership and looking after us.
It’s so easy for us to lose our creative selves as we give all our energy and attention to our families. I’m hoping my Mum’s tale might just show that age and lack of funds should never limit us and stop us reaching for the stars! Self-publishing makes so much possible that simply wasn’t before. If you feel you might have a story to tell, it’s time to set aside some time and tell it. I get a huge satisfaction from blogging the shifts and changes of my life since we moved to France almost 8 years ago. I really feel it helps me make sense of my life to chronicle it! And what I’ve learned over the last few months is that there is so much wonderful support for indie-authors online. So, as the great prophet Nike said: ‘Just do it’!
Her new novel is a fascinating look at assisted suicide. Set in the near future, in a Britain where euthanasia is a legal choice for the terminally ill and the over seventies, Best Way Out tells the story of a group of strangers who have chosen, for various reasons, to end their lives on their own terms at the private clinic, Leeway Lodge. Each chapter follows a character as they arrive at the clinic for their final evening, and then we go back to a formative moment or event in their past. It is a riveting read as the story switches from the present, where their inevitable final moment is fast approaching, to the glimpses into their youth, full of passion, intrigue, love, sadness and joy. It is a subject that Mum feels passionate about, and to follow these beautifully found characters as they play out their final hours, but where their death is entirely their choice is so refreshing.
If you want to find out when Best Way Out makes it to print (and ebook of course), sign up for the very occasional newsletter on Pat Garwood.com (you even get a free download of Keyne Island as a thank you for your support!)
Anyway, here’s a little taster from the opening of Walnuts, I hope you enjoy it:
Eileen Taylor was thirty-nine years old. She had a husband, two children, a new house and a headache. She made herself a cup of coffee and thought about the evening.
She and Keith had been asked over the road to have a few drinks with Michael and Penny, who lived opposite them. ‘Come about eight-thirty’ Penny had said. If there was one thing that threw Eileen into a state of instant depression it was the thought of a few drinks with Penny and Michael, or indeed anyone. She had a strong anti-social streak and whenever she and Keith were asked out, or whenever they found themselves having someone to dinner, she always wished that something would happen to prevent it. Given that, she also knew that once any of these occasions were actually happening, she quite often really enjoyed them. So she sat with her coffee, trying to reason with herself – she didn’t want to be a drag for Keith and she needed to think positively about Penny and Michael. …
to find out more, go to : Pat Garwood.com
From me and Mum – thanks for reading!