A week and a half ago, the manuscript was handed over to my mother, Joy. In some ways, this is always the most nerve-wracking moment of any novel I write, because I can rely on her to tell it how is it. "Intriguing," she will say, "but it's not quite there yet, is it?"
When I was a child, I read because she was always reading. As soon as I was able to, I worked my way through her bookcases. I can't remember a time when she wasn't passing on books that she thought I'd enjoy - eclectic, fascinating books that I probably wouldn't have picked up otherwise, full of interesting matters for discussion. Even when I handed over my work-in-progress, I came away with four books to read.
This time, there was an additional reason to be nervous: one part of the novel is set in wartime London, a time and place she knew well. She's a Londoner from south of the river; she experienced what it's like to be bombed out, to come back from a shopping trip on a Saturday morning to find the family house was a pile of rubble after a direct hit - luckily, all the family was out. She was seventeen, and planning to join the Wrens (the Women's Royal Naval Service) when the war ended.
She's a little younger than the character I wrote, but a few of Iris's traits, notably resourcefulness and quiet willingness to swim against the conventional tide, as well as many of the observational details, are hers. I grew up with her - and my father's - stories of what it was like to live through the Second World War. But could I write about that time in a way that seemed authentic - and would Iris be credible?
Well, I got a couple of V2 rocket matters wrong - the "doodlebug" flying bombs didn't have quite the explosive power I gave them (you see, this is typical of the war generations, they don't make a fuss when it's not called for, and they don't over-dramatize). But otherwise, she thought it was spot on. In fact, she thought the whole book was "a real cracker"! She loved the story and the way it was written, and the subtle links between the three sections. So, three cheers!
Here is my historical consultant, photographed a couple of years after the war, and on the left in the picture behind, with her equally-beautiful lifelong friend Daphne, who sadly passed away earlier this year. They both had interesting lives ahead when the photo was taken in the park, and five daughters between them. Joy was a career woman, who met my father abroad and went on to live all around the world, from Russia to Kuwait, China, to Belgium and Singapore, and several stops between. Here they are, in a favourite photo, taken at my wedding in 1989.
So, thanks, Mum, for everything.