This is a guestpost by my very own extremely talented Ma, Judith.
Mum is the daughter of two writers and learned how to agonise over fiction submissions at my Grandparent’s knee. She speaks five languages and can say ‘please publish this story’ in all of them. She is grandmother to my children Seb and Alexa, Seb inspired her first published story when he broke her laptop keyboard. She mainly writes speculative fiction and is also, amongst things, a freelance journalist, medical writer, editor and indexer. In her few spare moment’s she’s studying for a BA with the Open University.
I’ve been thinking a lot about strength, and adversity. My Mother is, in my eyes, the pillar of strength having coped with so much, and to have come out the other side as fantastic as she is. Mum, you’ve done so well, you brought us up brilliantly. We get our dry humor and love of oranges from you. Thank you.
The M1 gene
Writing and driving. Driving and writing. Linked in my memory.
My father started writing fiction in 1954. From the proceeds of his first book, he bought an Austin A30 and named it after his publisher. In 1960, the first of his books was filmed, and he upgraded to a Rover 90.
We lived in Liverpool but spent a lot of time driving to London, so that he could meet his agent, his publisher, and actors interested in his upcoming film projects. The journey used to take the best part of a day, past the same landmarks: real places with fictional-sounding names. ‘No Man’s Heath’ and ‘The Devon Doorway’. Sandbach. Brownhills. Hinckley. Markyate. Past places with secret names we’d given them, like ‘Bird House On A Pole’, wherever and whatever that was. There’s nobody left to ask.
But, on 2nd November 1959 at 9.30 am, when I was aged three-and-a-bit, everything changed. We were on our way back to Liverpool, heading up the A5. Horrid road, nowhere to stop and eat. After crawling through St Albans and Redbourn we were nearly at Luton. We reached Slip End (a name you wouldn’t put into fiction unless you were after a Bad Sex Award), when we arrived at the Friars Wash entrance to this new motorway thing.
We went to see what it was all about, but met a roadblock. The Transport Minister, Ernest Marples, was about to cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony. We were first in the queue, next came a Jaguar and then a Bentley.
Snip – the policemen let us through – my father floored the accelerator of our chunky Rover 105S (funded by more published novels) and, doing 80 mph, it was the first car to roar past Mr Marples. I was sitting in the front passenger seat (seatbelt? What seatbelt?). And so, writing was the reason I was the joint first person on the northbound M1 – the photo shows our car. I remember the crowds of people leaning over the bridges high above waving to us, as we zipped along the concrete-coloured road.
There was no speed limit on the motorway in those days, or crash barriers, or lighting. As soon as my father had overtaken the traffic joining the M1 at Luton, he reduced speed to 70 mph. According to the faded newspaper clipping in the family archive, Mr Marples said he was appalled by how fast our car had gone. But my father got his name in print yet again, in a letter to the paper printed soon afterwards. He said that there was no reason for the Minister to have been appalled; if one could not maintain a car’s advertised cruising speed on a completely empty road, there was little point in using the road.
He apologised for frightening Mr Marples and reassured him that he had never exceeded 70mph on any subsequent journey on the motorway. This was fiction too – I remember doing the ton on the M1 more than once, over the coming years, when my mother, too became an author and joined him in the meetings. The last stage after longhand drafting, redrafting of her stories and novels was reading to the teenage me: “What shall I call the boyfriend in this one?” “Tony” “No, don’t like that. Steve.” “Again?” Double spaced, big margins, carbon paper sandwich. She had a wooden desk in the back bedroom we called the “writing room”, my father’s metal writing desk was on the other side. For some reason it was the only room without heating, they’d kept the gas fire. Two authors in a Liverpool garret.
We kids got the carbon copies for drawing paper, I didn’t get to draw on a fresh page till I was about 16. Were we scribbling on the back of untold and unsold tales, dreams? Perhaps so, I have carbon copies of the ones that were published. We didn’t ask our parents about that, didn’t want to remind them that they were waiting – for a letter fluttering through the door, or a ring from the postman with a manuscript too big for the letterbox. Publishers are bastards (Field, J, 1967-2013). Locked in the typewriter’s memory, written into its levers and springs, roller and ribbon, are forty stories, five novels, one woman’s dream. Cut short at the age of 44.
Today, I live near the M1, three junctions back from the place where I got my 15 minutes of fame in 1959. My father, driven down by dementia, no longer writes. I drive for an hour to see him. I show him a magazine, containing my first story. I tell him this was the fourth publisher I tried: how you have to keep on trying; how there’s nothing like the high I get when a story’s accepted. He looks at me and smiles. Writing is in our blood.
Maybe driving is too. My younger daughter, Laura, passed her test first time, after only five months provisionally licensed to terrify, with me as a Munch ‘Scream’ lookalike in the passenger seat stamping at a non-existent brake pedal. My elder daughter, Ruth – whose blog this is – writes, and beautifully too, if you’ll excuse a doting Mum’s gushing. I hope my grandchildren will, too. If not, I hope they’ll inherit the M1 gene, and give me lifts when I’m too old to drive. Driving and writing. Writing and driving. Driven to write.