Someone sent me a review of Wilderness earlier on and I am still pondering this one. Lots of bits in my head but heck, if you read my meandering regularly you’ll know all about that.
My late father was a jazz musician in the Swinging Sixties, playing the club scene. My mum has always told me the story of how they first met – you have to imagine, Michael Caine with a tenor sax and the incredibly glamorous, slender, black-haired dolly-bird in matching mini-skirt and knickers, in a smoky dive where you had to buy chips to stay after pub closing time because that made it not a pub and therefore not subject to the same opening hours legislation. Anyway. I am responsible, he told her, very seriously. I am responsible for making all these people happy.
And I think in that respect I am my father’s daughter (although I look nothing like Michael Caine). I read the review, which was a wonderful piece of writing in its own right, and I was very flattered and I sat about looking smug and the cats looked at me oddly and then I thought – yes, and that’s going to go Out There. People will read that and think, that’s an author who can write, who can entertain me, who can maybe teach me a bit about history, who can make me feel like I’m there. And actually, that’s a hell of a responsibility.
On the one hand – there will be more hands going on than Kali here – I’ve got Rosie Babbitt muttering darkly that he’s bloody sick of being called a Crophead, with his hair halfway down to his backside, and how come people don’t know that half of it’s cobblers – there was no more poets in the King’s Army than there was in Parliament’s, and even Cromwell’s fearsome Ironsides were just lads doing a job, wanting to get home, wanting to get paid. And Russell with his head up, quivering like a greyhound, passionately declaring for freedom of thought and conscience, and the poorest he that is in England having the same right to a voice as the richest. And Het in the background, carefully piecing them all back together, having the same problems as wives and mothers through the ages: trying to keep a safe, secure roof over her family’s head, bringing up her children right, trying to make a pound stretch till payday.
So there’s that lot, the fictional lot, wanting me to tell it like it was, to make the lived experience of ordinary men and women in the 1640s real to you guys. On both sides, King and Parliament. Not people in books who talk in thees and thous, but people like me and you, who loved and hated and felt just like we do. Had favourite foods, got cold, worried about the state of their linen. And, you know, I hope I do a sort of okay job there. Someone told me once they could imagine bumping into Rosie Babbitt out shopping, to which I could only think God help them both, then, for I’d not imagine he’d be good at queuing.
And then on the other hand there’s the real lot. The people (who will remain nameless) whose good opinion matters to such an extent that the Babbitt-boy keeps the cursing down to a dull roar unless under extreme provocation. Who expect good writing, and a bit of adventure and a bit of sweariness and a bit of romance and a bit of intrigue, and who’d be disappointed if they got less. Who are proud to say they know me as a friend as well as an author.
So. Well. It’s hard work,.then.