When fiction becomes fact

It must be nearly seven years now since I invented Julie and wrote my first book, The Art of Killing.

I’d always wanted to write, but one of the major difficulties with writing is getting started.  Finding a suitable beginning or catalyst for the whole story is one of the main challenges.  Somehow I had to kickstart Julie so she could take on her new role as an amateur investigator.  Eventually I hit upon the idea of her feeling bereft after her twins went away to university, and, to take her mind off things, she needed a new direction in life, or, in Julie’s terms, a paid job for the first time in years. But, while I could sympathise with Julie’s feelings of uselessness and rejection, this wasn’t something I’d actually experienced myself as my own daughter was still in her early years of secondary school.

The twins’ choice of university was entirely arbitrary, and Alice went to Nottingham while Mike went to Edinburgh.  Maybe I thought Julie’s sense of loss would be even greater because of the distance involved – after all, Julie lives in London, as I do, and Edinburgh is some four hundred miles away in another country, and just about (although not quite) as far away as it’s possible to go to university from London.

About a year ago we took my daughter on a tour of universities so she could decide which one suited her best. She liked York: it had the obligatory Fudge Kitchen and the city was interesting and in striking distance of the campus.  Her enthusiasm waned visibly (and audibly) when she saw Durham – no Fudge Kitchen and a small town centre, which was just too tame.  “It’s nice,” she said in deference to my feelings (I’m a Durham graduate), “but it’s not for me.”

Then we hit Edinburgh and her eyes lit up.  Edinburgh had everything: a Fudge Kitchen, a lively town centre, and the right university course.  She hadn’t even read The Art of Killing at this stage, so I can’t accuse her of copying Mike: it’s just pure coincidence, and last weekend we took her up there to embark on her university life.

Yesterday I was back home again and feeling just like Julie.  Of course I want my daughter to do the course that’s right for her, and it’s a natural progession to move away from home.  Edinburgh is only four hours away by train, so I can always pop up there, assuming she wants to see me.  But that doesn’t change the emptiness and feeling of job done.  My role in her life has been diminished and there’s a gap to fill.  Fortunately I’m not quite in the same situation as Julie because I consider that I have a full time job writing books and I now have plenty of time to crack on with my next murder mystery – actually, I’ve got two planned – and I’ve also got a round of social activities.  But it’s the little things which will catch me out – remembering to set the table for two, not three, in the evenings – and I’ve lost my favourite riding buddy.

But there’s also another extremely worrying aspect to all this.  As some one said the other day, once a person gets to Edinburgh, they tend to stay there well after their university career has ended.  And, I have to say, this is certainly true of Julie’s son Mike, so this could be something else I’ll have to face up to in four years’ time!

In the meantime, however, of course I’m delighted that my daughter is able to go to the university of her choice and I’m sure she will have a very happy and fulfilling time there.  Good luck Susanna!


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