My column for the June edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News
Having grown up in a suburban semi, identical to every odd-numbered house in the street (the even numbers were its mirror image), I’d always wanted to live in a house where you couldn’t guess the layout of the rooms from outside. Moving to my Hawkesbury cottage allowed me to achieve that goal.
Here, visitors regularly get lost trying to find their way out.
Our new extension has added a further surprise. Now that it’s nearing completion, we really must start calling it something other than “the extension”. For some unknown reason it’s labelled “the breakfast room” in the plans, although we don’t expect to eat breakfast there. I need to change the name before it becomes ingrained.
I missed that trick with our utility room. Now every time I refer to it, I picture Batman’s utility belt, instead of a laundry.
So I’m going to wait to see how we use our new room before deciding what to call it. I feel like one of those parents who refers to their new baby as “Baby” for a week after it’s born, while trying to decide which name would suit its looks.
I did the opposite with my daughter, naming her Laura some weeks before she was born. What a good thing she turned out to be a girl.
And in case you’re wondering why I named her Laura, and with such certainty, before we’d even met, this post from my archives will tell you:
My column for the April edition of the Tetbury Advertiser, published under the shorter title of “Of Books and Babies” to save space!
This month, as I prepare to launch my first novel, Best Murder in Show, I’ve been spotting the many similarities between producing a book and giving birth to a baby.
For me, the gestation time for my daughter and my novel have been about the same. There have been so many pre-publication checks by advance readers, editors and proofreaders, that I feel as if BMiS should have its own “orange book” of antenatal records that the NHS thrusts upon expectant mothers.
When you announce to friends that you’re pregnant, their response varies according to whether or not they have borne children themselves. So too with a novel:
“Ah yes, I’ve always thought I might do that, once I’ve got my career/house/travel bucket list sorted” versus “Oh my goodness, it’s SUCH hard work, but worth it in the end. I think.”
Regarding the title, I knew what I’d call my novel all along. No working titles for me. The same happened with my daughter. “But what if she doesn’t look like a Laura when she’s born?” a family friend enquired. Fortunately, she did.
When you write a book, you have plans, hopes and dreams for it, just as you do for your child. But when delivery day dawns, all you really want is for your baby to arrive intact and trouble-free.
The first time I saw my new-born daughter’s face, it was so screwed up that in my heavily drugged state I thought she didn’t have any eyes. “Never mind, we’ll get round it,” I thought to myself, ever the optimist. Two days later, when she finally deigned to open them, her eyes proved to be beautiful and perfect. Even so, I will be surprised if I don’t have at least one nightmare between now and my book’s official launch in which the letter “I” is omitted from my beautiful new book: Best Murder n Show, coming soon to a bookshop near you.
For medical reasons, Laura was born by planned Caesarean section. This meant I knew for weeks beforehand when her 0th birthday would be. So too with my book: it will enter the world shortly after 10am on Saturday 22nd April at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. (Laura was born at 10.22am.)
But here’s the biggest difference between my baby and my book:
I am and will only ever be the mother of just one child, having embarked on motherhood too late for younger siblings to be naturally possible. Yet Best Murder in Show is the first in a planned series of seven Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries. In fact, I’m already expecting the second, Trick or Murder, due to appear later this year.
From now on, I plan to keep producing novels well into my old age.
I just hope no medical intervention will be required.
Best Murder in Show is currently available from Amazon at the special launch price of £4.99 for the paperback, around the world, via Amazon – and from our village shop!
From 1st May 2017, it will revert to its usual RRP of £7.99, and will then also be available to buy from bookstores worldwide. Support your local bookshop, folks! Just give your friendly local bookseller ISBN 978-1911223139 and he or she will be able to order it via their usual trade supplier.
The ebook, currently available exclusively for Kindle, costs £2.99.
Just before her ninth birthday, my daughter asked me how I’d chosen her name. Given that it’s one piece of parenting that I’ve never regretted, I’m happy to share that information with you now.
In the run-up to her birth, I’d had plenty of time to consider. I’d been hoping for her arrival for many years. All that time, I’d anticipated a Sophie, a Chloe or, best of all, a Catherine, the latter particularly favoured for its many variables. (An old friend, who spelt hers with a K, had run through most of the possibilities while we were at school, and my great-grandmother saw nothing wrong with christening two of her daughters Katie and Kathy.)
There was a touch-and-go moment when we thought that she might have turned out to be a boy, though I really longed for a little girl. In a weak moment, I agreed that if our baby turned out to be a boy, he could choose what to call it, whereas I had the naming rights over a girl. If indeed I had given birth to a boy, he would have rejoiced in the name of Munro, in honour of my (Scottish) husband’s hero, Sir Hugh Munro, who charted all the Scottish mountains with a height of over 3,000 feet. Not keen, I tried to influence his choice, suggesting Hamish as having a suitable heritage. “Och, no!” came the chorus of replies from his assembled Scottish relatives as we discussed possiblities in Kincardine-on-Forth. (Only later did I discover that Hamish is actually a Scottish derivative of James. As Gordon already had a son called James, we would have been stepping into Kathy-and-Katie territory here.) Laura regularly reminds us of her near miss and rolls her eyes , saying “I’m SO glad I was born a girl!”
Five months into my pregnancy, an amniocentesis confirmed categorically that I was carrying a girl – so Sophie, Chloe or Catherine she would be.
But then, just a few weeks before she was born, the name Laura suddenly came into my head, and I knew at once that was what she would be called. I’d never really known another Laura, but, post-rationalising, I can see that two of my heroines, both pioneers in different ways, were responsible for this inspiration.
I’d followed Laura Ashely’s ascent from cottage industry at her kitchen table to international style and fashion mogul, and I adored her style, even after it had long gone out of fashion. I mourned her premature death, while in my house, and in my wardrobe, she lives on . I suppose her early designs made me ever associate her name with all things pretty, natural, unpretentious and feminine – all things that I’d like a daughter of mine to be.
My other role model was Laura Ingalls Wilder. Forget the saccharine TV programmes that her books have spawned. Read those books instead. I defy anyone to fail to be awed by her and her family’s courage, optimism, self-reliance and flexibility (again, great qualities in any child) as they moved ever westward in search of the perfect place to settle. And of course, she wrote like an angel, a further quality that scores very highly with me. (I daresay her outfits would have charmed Laura Ashley, too.)
Anita Roddick (the admirable founder of Body Shop) would also have been in with a chance, if I didn’t dislike the name Anita. Had Cath Kidston raised her profile a little more before Laura’s birth, she could have kept me straight on the Catherine path.
But Laura she is, and there are plenty of other reasons that I adore the name. It’s pretty without committing its bearer to a certain image, size or shape (I’d never have risked a Grace, a Fleur or a Rose, just in case she turned out beefy). It’s classical, too, with a hint at Greek laurel wreaths – appropriate considering she was born 9 months after our stay in Athens.
It hasn’t been hijacked by Hollywood or the pop charts either – a phenomenon presumably to blame for the three Ethans in her school of 85 pupils (thank you, Mr Hawke) and the imminent Rihanna in reception. You have to feel for the hundreds of Kylies and Madonnas now hitting their twenties.
It’s a name everyone knows how to spell (I pity the poor child I came across whose parents decided to be different and christen their daughter Abbeygale).
But it’s not so common as to cause confusion. (I remember in my first class at secondary school there were four Susans in our class of thirty.)
It’s poetic without being twee or soppy, and classless and timeless, so it shouldn’t date.
Nine years on, I’ve never regretted my choice. The name hasn’t dated or gone out of fashion, nor been blighted by the bad behaviour of a celebrity Laura. Consequently I’m predisposed to like any new Lauras I encounter, whether in person, on the phone or online. I expect them to be sweet, kind, big-hearted and gentle – just like my Laura – and to have a healthy sense of humour too. In the last few days, I’ve added several new Lauras to my collection, and they’ve all complied with these expectations. I love the notion (and glorious phrase) of nominal determinism: the presumption that you will grow into the name you are given, although my rational side assures me that it must be nonsense.
My own name, Debbie, has its perks – for example, a recent survey showed it to be the top name for female CEOs (my brother and father’s name, Peter is top for men). But already it seems old-fashioned. I know quite a few Debbies, and there have been some pretty damn cool ones, from my best friend at primary school, Debbie Hasletine, to the peerless Debbie Harry of Blondie. But I don’t know any now under the age of thirty, and I suspect that in another twenty years, my name will have all the cachet of a Gladys.
But whatever fashion dictates, I know I’ll still have claim to one name that I will always love: and that name is Mummy.
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