– a history

(and a bit about Daisychains of Silence )

In the middle of a bout of ‘flu, I’m not sure I’m in a fit state to be writing a blog post, never mind about a subject so important to me as my father’s novel, The Ripening Time. But a new review has triggered a maelstrom of emotion, and in a feverish state I’m daring to put some of my thoughts down on paper.

When I was little I was always going to be a writer. Every child in every family somehow absorbs an expectation of what they’re going to be – from the funny one to the shy one to the black sheep or the studious one, the rebel, the plump one who always finishes off the cake to the peacemaker or the troublemaker or the cook. My brother was the clever one. I was the dreamer, the writer. I also turned into the black sheep, but that’s another story.

I last saw my father when I’d just turned fifteen. Things were on a downward spiral (is this the time to confess that Daisychains is not entirely fiction?); when I was seventeen, he killed himself. Relatives have told me that isn’t so, but truths denied don’t make it so (hence perhaps the stitched lips, of one who knows the truth but cannot say.) But I know the truth. I have the letter he left.

All I had left of my dad were my memories, some photos and his writing. 

Over my lifetime (and I’m older now than he was when he died) I’ve read all his books several times. The Ripening Time, (in paperback it was called The Tomato Man) was the most depressing of all his stories, written when his (my) life was unravelling.

Sick of years of clerical work, the ‘soul destroying’ (my frequent lament at that time) treadmill I’d endured while my children were growing up and although I enjoyed the friendships I made in various offices I found the work, however it was couched by grand terminology – Administrator, Researcher, some other acceptable-sounding title – at times literally soul-destroying. I’d sooner have lived in a caravan or a cave but wanted a proper home for my children so of course I carried on to meet the mortgage payments and give the kids a normal, stable childhood. In the meantime I read, and read and read and read. I devoured books like other people devour chocolate. Any money to spare didn’t go on clothes or shoes or holidays, it went on books. They were my luxury, my treats.

Eventually I trained as an Aromatherapist which felt much more my sort of thing, and for a time I loved the work. I wrote a thesis on the power of touch and I loved working closely with my clients and with essential oils. The recession and a bad back made it a short-lived profession and towards the end of 2009 I plunged back into employment as a Christmas temp behind the haberdashery counter at John Lewis. Three months of that sent me scurrying back to my keyboard, finally determined to banish whatever ghosts had prevented me from writing for so many years.

My husband took a week off work to install a downstairs loo. I took my smoke-stained copy of The Ripening Time down from the bookshelf and started typing it up not sure where I was headed or the purpose of the exercise. As I typed up the story I found myself making slight changes as I went. It was such a gloomy tale, full of sorrow and wasted youth. I saw it differently, and to the background of hammering and sudden shouts for bucket and towels when my husband nailed through pipes, before I knew what I was doing I was adapting it – changing little, but in places enough to make subtle alterations to characters and storyline. I wanted to … no, something was driving me to turn this tragedy into something hopeful, something positive with a happy ending.

Within eight weeks I had a more or less completed manuscript and a lovely new downstairs cloakroom. I’d re-written history, and something inside me had shifted in the process. I put it to one side and opened up some of my old writing files. Over the years I’d carried on writing, just out of habit, never with the thought of having anything published or being any sort of ‘writer’. One after the other I dismissed them – rubbish, what was I thinking, terrible. Then I happened upon a piece I’d started back in 2003 I’d hastily entitled ‘Stitcher’ before saving and forgetting all about it. I read the opening and it didn’t strike me as rubbish. It struck me as rather good, and I felt a flutter of excitement. Within a few days that initial 4,000 words became 10,000. I googled around a bit to see if there were any websites where I might get some feedback from other writers; I’d left school 3 weeks after my fifteenth birthday so didn’t even have O level English and my confidence matched my qualifications: none. I happened on Authonomy, and it changed my life. I know it’s not for everyone, and the forum in the past has at times been brutal, but for me it was a miracle. People seemed to love Daisychains, and their feedback spurred me on. I was driven to finish it.

I think I had to write a novel of my own before I could dare to consider doing anything with my version of The Ripening Time. I didn’t want it to seem as if I was just re-hashing my dad’s book for profit. It was never about that, it still isn’t and never will be. The thing is, the process of writing was learnt literally at my father’s knee when I was a child, and then through his own hand as I re-wrote and revised his words forty years later. I absorbed the rhythm, the structure, the nuance of dialogue – all as if he taught me himself. Well, he did, really.

I spent the next couple of years revising and editing Daisychains. In the meantime I approached Random House to see where I stood about copyright of my father’s novels. He was published by William Heinemann who’d been taken over by Random House. I was delighted when they offered to revert all rights of his books to me, as his sole surviving heir.

I published Daisychains of Silence on Kindle. It soared into several bestselling charts and is currently inside the top 1000, slipping in and out but on a slow but steady rise. I don’t pretend it’s a masterpiece, but it’s my first novel and I did my best. It was a book I had to write in order to be free to write anything else. It was cathartic, and necessary.

With Daisychains up and running, I took a deep breath and quietly published The Ripening Time, revised and adapted by me. I adopted a pen name; the need to hide behind a fictitious name is a throwback to the numerous threats of slander and court cases that jangled up my youth. It felt to me like a very scary thing to be doing, on many levels. Not least, how dare I tinker with my father’s work? I received an excellent review within days, but (however lovely) to me it didn’t count because although the reviewer had read the original and my new adaptation, I confess it was written by a friend so they were definitely biased.

Today I received a new five star review on Amazon by a complete stranger who read the original novel over thirty years ago. I hope Mr Lyle doesn’t mind me copying his review here. It means more than I can say; it validates what I’ve done. It says I did OK. I hope Dad would be pleased:

“I read this book first time round over 30 years ago and it left a very lasting impression. I was absolutely delighted to find it again after all these years in Kindle books though I noticed it had been re-written and had a co-author. Not to worry, it was even better second time around and better still, I discovered that it was based on a true story. Give it a go, it’s a marvellous and well told story and you won’t be disappointed. Maybe, just maybe, some discerning film maker will give it a go.”

Thank you, Mr Lyle. I appreciate your feedback more than I can say.