On Parents

My parents lived long enough to see a number of my non-fiction books published, and they were inordinately proud of me, more so than I was of myself. To my father, who’d had a couple of plays on TV in the 1960s, it was a fulfilment of his dream for himself. To my mother…well, it gave her huge satisfaction to see me happy, making money from something I’d long wanted to do. But those books, unauthorised quickie bios of movie and music people (written under my own name and a pseudonym which, no, I won’t reveal) were satisfying only because they paid well and were done in a month. As an exercise in learning how to write they were invaluable, though, getting it down right the first time as the deadline didn’t allow for extensive revisions.

They weren’t great books but hopefully they did the job. They, along with my music journalism, paid the bills when I had a young son. They allowed me to work from home and handle much of the childcare, to be around and develop a close bond with my boy, perhaps the most valuable thing of all.

My parents were both dead by the time my first novel came out, and with each one that’s appeared I’ve wondered what they’d think of them. When there’s been good news, an accolade, I’ve wanted to share it with them. That came home to me once more last weekend, when the audiobook of my first novel was named one of the audiobooks of the year by The Independent. There was I, sandwiched between Ian Fleming (a great favourite of my dad’s) and J.K. Rowling, along with Kashuo Ishiguro, very august company. My partner was overjoyed for me, I was pretty speechless over the whole thing, but I couldn’t share it with the people who’d first encouraged my writing.

My father used to critique the teenage poems I wrote, and he’d treat my words honestly, as if they were adult. He was also an excellent pianist – in the 30s he had a jazz band – who was invited to join a BBC Orchestra and refused because he didn’t believe he was good enough. He lent me the money for my first bass guitar and amp, but only on the condition that I learnt to read music for it. On Sundays he’d do into the front room and work on his novel, never published and now long gone, set in Leeds, a tale based around one of his (and my) ancestors.

And now I have my own tales based in a Leeds long gone and largely forgotten. I have my own son, who’s read one of them, after much cajoling. He’s not a reader, but he enjoyed it, and cited it in a paper he had to write about poverty in literature, alongside Oliver Twist. It thrilled me more than I could say for him to do that. Next year he’ll be going on to university in American to study maths, a subject far beyond my comprehension, and I’m so proud of his college acceptances.

I miss my parents; I even miss the way my father had to be right even when he so obviously wasn’t. I miss the unwavering, gentle support of my mother. Each time, when I finish writing a book, I ask myself whether it honours them. All I can hope, with each one, is that it does.

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