Thirteen years ago, I gave birth to twin boys, and almost immediately afterwards began to write a novel.
I know that sounds strange and unlikely. Giving birth – not to mention the confused, chaotic aftermath where night blends into day and you wander the house unkempt and smelling of baby sick – is an exhausting time for most parents. Giving birth to twins perhaps even more so.
Yet within days of the birth, after years of creative drought and despite being swaddled in milk-haze, I was blessed with an idea for a story. A story about a missing child. A story about the generations, about handing things on to your children: not just possessions, but genetic material, memories, looks, personality, even secrets. A story about grief and the worst kind of betrayal. My creative mind was probably responding to my body’s satisfaction at having successfully passed on my genes – never an easy thing – but I may also have been driven by the terrible, unspoken fear that possesses most mothers: the loss of a child.
The book had to be written, it would not be still. So I started to write, mostly at night, and kept an ear open for the babies over the monitor. I felt released by their birth like a sprinter by the starting pistol. At the time, I had not written for some years, having been severely blocked after rejection upon rejection. Suddenly being granted inspiration was like stumbling across an oasis in a desert. So I jumped straight in, right up to the waist.
Luckily, the twins proved surprisingly easy to care for. I had a loving partner who was only too happy to do his share when not at work, and two older daughters on hand for baby-minding after school and at weekends. Besides, the twins shared a cot and seemed to keep each other company, which meant fewer needy wakings between night feeds. So perhaps my situation was a little easier than most mothers of newborns, bizarre though that sounds.
I had agreed to manage nights on my own – breast-feeding is a hard job to share! – so I bought a baby monitor and set up a temporary study for myself. And that’s when I did most of my writing – at night, between feeds, when the rest of the household was asleep.
Wasn’t I tired? Well, no. I felt light as a bird in those first months after the birth. It felt as if I had slept all through that long, dragging twin pregnancy, and now I had been released from my burden and was floating!
I have never needed much sleep, and having to breastfeed twins gave me the perfect excuse to stay awake all night, grabbing cat-naps during the day. I would write long into each night, and then stumble out in the pale flush of dawn to stretch and get some fresh air. It was a glorious experience, and I look back on that time as one of enhanced creativity, where I was totally alert and aware, and the story just flowed – after years of stagnancy.
My partner’s mother visited us during that period, and scolded me for being so self-indulgent as to be writing a novel when I should be concentrating on my newborns. Her disapproval was tangible. Mothers should not be writers, was her opinion. But I paid no attention. Babies don’t know what you’re doing when they’re asleep. So I steeled myself against such criticisms and kept writing. Books never get written unless you can do that.
It took me six weeks to write MIRANDA, plus a few months for edits and rewrites, but another thirteen years before it was published. Sometimes a book can be written seemingly overnight yet not be made public for years, for one reason or another. Publishing has always been like that, and perhaps even more so in these days of risk-averse publishers and the demise of the midlist author.
I am hugely excited to see MIRANDA published, and available in both digital and paperback editions, and I do hope it will find a readership at last. It is the ghostly third child of my twin pregnancy, and as such, I will always feel a warm and nostalgic affection towards it.