I mean, did any of us who are lucky enough to be parents really know what we'd let ourselves in for? Hostages to fortune doesn't even come close.
I've been trawling through my artwork archives for the past few days ; ostensibly to locate some artwork for a publisher who wants to re-jacket a picture book, and also to put together a retrospective powerpoint presentation to try and give some idea of what my work has been about. In the trawl, I've been struck by how many of my books are about families. In fact, just about every single thing I've written and illustrated has a family at its core. And looking at the illustrations, I can trace the progression of my own family ; how we grew up, added new members, fell apart and remade ourselves into a new form. Seventy odd picture books, six novels and four works of junior fiction and they're pretty well all about families.
And then...a little bomb went off inside my head yesterday. I was reading the Saturday Guardian in which there was a heartbreaking article about growing up to become a writer by Jeanette Winterson in which she said, 'Unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself.'
Winterson's story comes straight out of Grimm ; mine is more Hans Christian Andersen, but as I read on, I acknowledged a degree of kinship with this woman whose writing life has been the only way she could make sense of a world from which all sense appeared to have gone. I write about families because the family I grew up in was so fractured and desperately unhappy that try as I might, I still cannot make sense of it. So I'm making up families as I go along. Where do I get my ideas for my books from? I watch my own children, my own family and I am continually amazed by them. They are the best* people I've ever met.
*Even when they require laundry services/ taxis/ dispute arbitration/ loans/homework-helper/ catering etcetera.