I’m writing this at 6.26 a.m. It’s publication day of my debut novel, She Lies Hidden, and I am very nervous indeed.
I woke very early today, which is the norm for me most mornings. The digital display on my Garmin watch glowed in the dark – 5.09 a.m. I lay in bed for thirty minutes desperate to go back to sleep, it wasn’t going to happen. So, I gave up, got up, made myself a coffee and started work.
Ironically, early morning seems to be the best time for me to write. The house is silent, and my husband and the cats asleep. I don’t bother getting changed, it’s just me in my dressing gown, my computer and a coffee. I let the words flow unhindered, make a note of whatever comes into my head. I don’t worry about the quality or accuracy of what I’m writing, that comes later.
For the last week, my husband and I have been on holiday. An unusual two centre holiday, four days in Norfolk and then three days in Vienna. Whilst I have an iPhone for communication, I didn’t take along my laptop, I would only worry about it being safe. Instead, my trusty friends are old school – two notebooks, a smallish one for my handbag (a permanent fixture) and an A4 ring bound one for my daily writing. I like to write with a fountain or rollerball pen (Lamy make wonderful ones that aren’t too expensive).
My daily practice when on holiday is to write just after breakfast. I endeavour to fill at least one page of A4, it usually takes me about ten to fifteen minutes. It doesn’t have to be well-written. Sometimes it’s to do with the project I’m working on, at other times it’s not. It probably drives my husband mad, he’s always eager to be off out, sightseeing, walking or getting on with whatever we have planned.
For the rest of the day my small notebook lies waiting, literally itching to be written in. I’ll jot down a few notes as we wait for a coffee in a café, it’s a habit that’s repeated time and time during the day. I look around, write what I see. It was something that developed when I was studying creative writing with Open University. We were encouraged get outside, to observe the life around us. And life is so incredibly interesting.
Last Saturday, whilst having coffee and cake in a beautiful 1930’s café in Vienna, a family of three seated themselves a few feet away from us. The small family unit comprised a young child and two adults, who I assumed were her parents. The walls of the café were lined with cubicles, the seats covered in red velvet. Some tight and snug, big enough for only one person; others up to six. The tables were ringed with chairs on the other side. The family in question were tucked in an L shaped booth.
The child nestled in her father’s lap, she was perhaps only three or four years old, with huge dark brown eyes and shoulder length hair. The resemblance to her mother was striking. The mournful expression on the child’s face was matched only by the force by which she clung to her father’s neck. The mother sat rigid in the corner, her mouth set in a frown, her eyes completely fixed on her daughter. The sadness that emanated from her was quite startling. The edges of her lips turned down. Her eyes gleamed with tears, yet none fell. I felt her aloneness. The father’s left arm wrapped around his daughter’s waist tightly, the fingers of his right hand stroked her forehead. Was she ill, I wondered. Her eyes locked on his adoringly. The mother looked on, hands resting on her lap, as though filled with dread.
Then a waiter appeared; their food order had arrived. Three plates of food piled high.
All three transformed into happy, smiling human beings. The atmosphere changed in a moment; the clouds appeared to lift. We sat in the café for another thirty minutes and yet the girl stayed in her father’s arms. Her mother remained in opposite side of the booth.
The image kept coming back to my mind as I sat on the plane on the way home to the UK. The memory of it so open to misinterpretation. It was none of my business after all. The child could have clambered onto her mother’s lap moments after we left. The father might have been away for a while. Perhaps the father wasn’t the father after all. He could have been a beloved uncle. Perhaps the mother did reach out and touch her daughter. I wasn’t watching them all the time.
Of one thing I am completely sure, I am highly unlikely to find out. All I saw was a snapshot of life. Three human beings waiting for their breakfast in a café.
It is scenes such as these that stoke my imagination. It was the first thing I wrote in my notebook when I returned to our hotel. And strands of it may very well turn up in my next book. Who knows.