And no, it’s not kids cheating in school or lovers cheating on one another or any of the scores of cheats in politics. It’s me. And the re-issue of this particular book has made me face up to it because it all began with something my loved-to-bits, adopted sister told me.
She phoned me up one morning to say, as she often did, saying, ‘You’ll never guess what I’ve just done?‘ which intrigued me, as it always does. And when I asked ‘What?’ she said, ‘I’ve found my natural mother.’ Which I certainly didn’t expect.
But sure enough, she had and was in the middle of making arrangements to meet her. Bit by bit as the weeks and months passed, I heard the whole story of the search and how she’d set about it, and wrote it down because it had taken a lot of effort and was almost too good to be true. It was also very touching, for when Carole and her mother finally did meet, they got on very well indeed, despite their original misgivings. Carole showed her mother pictures of her two children, her mother told her how her own life had progressed after she’d had to hand her over for adoption and when they said goodbye they kissed one another and her mother said ‘I think I’ve missed a very great deal.’
The scene between Bobbie and her natural Mother was the first part of this book that I wrote and it ends with the same words taken from the life. The two characters were fictional, of course, but what they were doing and saying was real. Or to put it another way, I was cheating! And the awful thing is, I do it all the time!
I took the descriptions of life in the trenches in the first world war from an old relation of mine called Jessie Garnsworthy, who was there, and the description of the twelve-year-old child in ‘Everybody’s Somebody’ leaving home to go and work in a great house, miles away from her family, from his wife Minnie Garnsworthy, who had had it happen to her and had always accepted it as ‘one of those things’.
And now that I’m sitting down thinking about the amount of cheating I’ve done, I can’t remember a book when I haven’t nicked something or other.
The Borough Market I described in ‘Everybody’s Somebody’ and its sequel ‘Citizen Armies’ was the Borough Market I visited and enjoyed in my teens. And whenever any of my fictional characters visited a pub, it was a pub I knew – The Windmill on Clapham Common, Jack Beard’s and the Mitre in Tooting. And worst of all, I set my very first novel in Tooting,where I grew up, and as if that weren’t bad enough, they lived and worked in the house and shop where I had live as a child. Wonderfully easy to write but cheating.
Well at least my descriptions were accurate!
War Baby is released on Thursday the 23rd of May and is available here!