When the idea popped into my head to ask some of my favourite female authors how their mothers inspired their love of books, I had no idea what a fabulous response I’d get. This post is a tribute to my wonderful Mum, and the mothers of ten inspirational writers … in their own words.
I’m certainly not alone in owing my love of reading to my Mum; cosy bedtime stories now treasured nostalgic memories, visits to the local library during school holidays, and borrowing her ‘grown-up’ books during my precocious teenage years. But I imagine I am among the minority in some respects … our roles reversed when Mum’s multiple sclerosis became so advanced that she didn’t have the strength to hold up and read a book anymore. Where once, Mum sat on my bed bringing countless Enid Blyton tales to life for me, here I was reading Joanne Harris’s wonderful novels to Mum.
Since Mum died in February 2017 I’ve been hiding from Mother’s Day – the seemingly inescapable adverts and flowers and chocolates are painful reminders of the beautiful, ever-smiling, infectious-giggling Mum-shaped hole in my life. But it only takes a glance at the collection of Mum’s books that grace my shelves to raise a smile, lift my spirits, and fill my heart with the most enormous love and gratitude for this enduring gift she gave me.
With this in mind, I’ve decided to look Mother’s Day square in the eye this year. With a fortifying G&T by my side, I set about cold-call messaging some of my favourite female authors asking if they would join me in a blog post dedicated to Mums, Mams, and Mothers, and the role they played in shaping the writer we’ve come to know and love.
I was genuinely overwhelmed to receive so many replies … and so many ‘yes’ replies at that. Their warmth and positivity has been incredibly moving, not to mention the generously-given time when they’re all so busy planning and writing new novels for us to devour.
Before I go on, I’d like so say a heartfelt thank you to Tina Baker, Hazel Barkworth, Rachael Blok, Louise Fein, Patricia Gibney, Nadine Matheson, Caroline Scott, Laura Shepherd-Robinson, Colette Snowden, and Wendy Waters.
What follows is a collection of unedited, from-the-heart, musings, reminiscences, poems, odes and dedications, kindly written for my blog by these beautiful authors …
I find Mother’s Day hellish. The only good thing about shielding right now is that I don’t encounter swathes of flowers, chocolates and balloons (when did that become a thing?) venturing outside my flat.
Even though it’s not something you can revise for, I feel I’ve failed Mother’s Day. I’m not a mother and I no longer have one. (The cats never send cards, although I did once receive a decapitated squirrel. A week late, but it’s the thought that counts.)
I had a very difficult relationship with my mum. Abused by Welsh nuns (a twist on the old sorry tale) she struggled to parent a daughter as wild and bolshy as me. I can never fix that. She died of a heart attack sixteen years ago and ever since, Mother’s Day along with her birthday, New Year’s Eve, is emotionally supercharged.
Clearing out her things after her death, I discovered a passport. It had never been used. She always wanted to visit my brother in Spain, where he now lives, but she never got round to it. In some ways, that was the greatest gift she ever gave me. It became a symbol of getting on with things— going for my dreams, like writing.
My debut novel, Call Me Mummy, draws on the desperate, unfulfilled yearning I had to be a mother. And it’s dedicated to my own mum because, despite everything, I love her.
Tina’s debut novel, Call Me Mummy, is available to buy now from your favourite book shop.
The best Mother’s Day card I ever found had a quote by Strickland Gillian: “Richer than I you can never be – I had a mother who read to me.” This resonated so deeply. My earliest memories of my mother are not only of her reading to me, but also her teaching me to read, painstakingly working through ‘Peter and Jane’ books so I was already confident – and completely in love – with words before I started school. Those memories are also of seeing her read, of her letting me sneak a few extra books onto her ticket during our library trips every Wednesday, of watching old movies on endless afternoons and constantly talking about stories. It meant that stories were the fabric of my life, and part of who I am. Richer than I you can never be.
Hazel’s novel, Heatstoke, is available to buy now from your favourite book shop.
My mum grew up in a mining village in the North of England and there weren’t a lot of books in her house. To join the library, you had to be seven years old. She marched her dad to the library on her seventh birthday and has returned every week since, taking my sister and me once we came along. Mum taught us books were prize possessions; my sister was in all sorts of trouble when she lost Jonny Briggs – a book she’d taken out – Mum renewed it for a year, turning the house upside down. She finally found it in the cellar under the tinned tomatoes – we’ve never worked it out.
Mum read under the covers with a torch when she was young, then read to us when we were young. During this last year, she’s read to my daughter over FaceTime and encouraged my daughter to read to her, which was invaluable when my daughter had had enough of me during homeschool! Books are our gifts for birthdays and Christmases, and thanks to her, I’ve wanted to write them for as long as I can remember. Mum’s treasured reading her whole life. She’s always said if you don’t have much growing up, with a library, you can have the whole world.
Rachael’s latest novel, The Scorched Earth is available to buy now from your favourite book shop.
Ode to my Mum
It all began a long time ago with nursery rhymes, songs and love.
A world of giants and bears,
A wolf, and a little girl in a red shawl and cap,
All told in a safe embrace, on a warm and cosy lap.
Then on to the alphabet, a-b-c, stringing letters together,
Until I could read.
Patiently wading through Peter and Jane;
To the library we’d go, choosing books was a game.
And so I discovered, all thanks to you,
Adventures and ponies and ships’ pirate crew.
Then young love, and torment, detectives and more,
The choices were endless as I grew to mature.
To become an author was a dream I held tight.
You taught me to hold that with all of my might.
And the praise you gave for the stories I wrote,
I stored up inside;
A shield from rejection by all those I approached.
Until, years on, published author I’ve become
And it’s all thanks to you, my own dear Mum.
Louise’s novel, People Like Us is available to buy now from your favourite book shop.
I’m lucky in that I still have my mam with me and it’s at a moment like this that I can acknowledge the importance of having her in my life. It is easy to take for granted the sacrifices she and dad must have had to make in the early years, and being a mother myself I realise the difficulties they encountered.
When I was just over three years old and my sister was a baby, my dad took ill with TB. He was in hospital for a year and a half. There were times when the doctor thought he might not survive. The trauma that the young couple went through at that time, puts lockdown in perspective and mam had to raise us alone for that year and a half while sick with the worry whether dad would survive or not. He did, and was eventually able to return to work.
We might not have had much, but we were lucky that mam could bake. Our house was always filled with the smell of fresh soda and brown bread, and our friends would crowd into the house on the days mam made buns and apple tart! We never went without anything, be it school books, uniforms, shoes, or even a hockey stick. Mam was brilliant at renewing and recycling hand-me-down clothes from our cousin in England. I loved getting this ‘new’ stuff!
Reading was a big part growing up and we got books for birthdays and Christmas, even if it was an annual. I remember when I was old enough to join the Library mam brought me to the Market House in town and filled out the forms for my very first library card. A whole new world opened up for me. I am forever grateful for that experience. Mam was and still is an avid reader. She loves reading women’s fiction and as I grew older I loved sneaking her books to my room once she was finished reading them. There is never any doubt what to buy her for her birthday or mother’s day. She always welcomes books or book tokens.
Sadly, I did not inherit her gift for cooking and dressmaking, but I definitely inherited the reading bug and that has helped me appreciate books and in turn to be a better writer.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mam.
The latest book in Patricia’s DI Lottie Parker series, Silent Voices is available to buy now from your favourite book shop.
My mum is a woman of many admirable qualities. She’s funny, smart, passionate and talented. My mum is the sort of woman who will sing a song at the top of her voice knowing full well that she can’t sing and she’s most likely out of tune. However, one of the qualities that I first recognised in my mum is her ability to fight for what she wanted and to just try. My mum has shown my brothers and I the strength in not ever settling for second best, to stand up for ourselves and to shine. My mum never directed us to any particular career path but she always encouraged us to have a plan, to always be ourselves and to pursue whatever made our heart and soul sing.
Nadine’s debut novel, The Jigsaw Man, is available to buy now from your favourite book shop.
Mum and I loved exchanging books. Our taste was very similar, I can’t remember that we ever disagreed about a novel, and it was a joy to share enthusiasms. When writing moves me, or makes me laugh, I instinctively want to tell Mum. I hate that I now can’t do that.
Until I started junior school, Mum was at home with me and she was writing a novel. Some of my earliest memories are the sound of typewriter keys and the smell of Tipp-Ex. She always seemed to be parcelling up chapters and then anxiously looking out for the postman. I found that manuscript a few months ago, and reading the first paragraph was a bitter-sweet experience, because suddenly she was in the room with me again; I heard her voice so clearly in those lines, all her enthusiasms and her humour, her warmth and her strength. I’m not quite ready to read on yet – it’s all a bit too raw and recent – but I feel lucky knowing that her voice is there in those pages, waiting for me.
Mum was here when I signed my publishing contract, but she’d gone before my book came out. I so wish I was sharing this journey with her, but she’s still with me in many ways. Mum is my motivation to write and she’s there in the way that I structure a sentence. She’s my determination, my word choices, and the way that I look at the world. Mum left too soon (much too soon), but she’ll always be here in the pleasure of writing and reading, and I’m very grateful to her for that.
Caroline’s latest novel, When I Come Home Again, is available to buy now from your favourite book shop.
My mum always loved reading and she was so excited when I told her I was trying to write a book. When she found out that she was dying, she insisted on giving me some money she’d planned to leave me in her will so that I could pay for the MA in Creative Writing that I wanted to do. It was on that course that I wrote the first draft of my debut novel Blood & Sugar. My only regret is that I didn’t write it fast enough, as I know she would have been so proud to see me published.
Laura’s latest novel, Daughters Of Night, is available to buy now from your favourite book shop.
My mum tells the story of how she discovered that libraries existed, at the age of 11, and couldn’t believe there was a place you could go and choose any book to take home. It was a love of libraries that she passed on to me and my sisters from our earliest years. We had a very local library and would walk there and have the freedom of the place while we chose our books and she chose hers. Best of all, she gave us the freedom to make our own choices. Her tastes are very different from mine (and still are), her first choice of children’s books would be Beatrice Potter but I always did (and still do) find them quite dull (that feels like a hefty confession). The books I loved were Dr Seuss, with all their colour and craziness and made-up words, and she allowed me to select the books I wanted, even when my teacher told her that I should be reading ‘proper books.’
She always encouraged my writing too, with the same approach to giving me the freedom to explore words in my own way. There was never any criticism of bad spelling or attempts to correct it, just an encouragement to be creative and keep going. For anybody with a child who loves to write, the encouragement of a parent is very powerful.
Thinking of my mum and writing also needs a small aside to the love of baking she has passed down to me, because it has crept into my novels without me noticing until I read them back and found them to be full of home-made cake and biscuits. My Mother’s Days for the past few years have been afternoon teas for my mum, baked by myself and my daughter: cakes, books and mother and daughter time are a lovely trinity.
Colette’s latest novel, Captain Jesus, is available to buy now from your favourite book shop.
My mother is…
Witch and wonder, right and wrong, first and last word, my shield for nine months in the womb, ready to love me when I emerge naked and vulnerable.
My mother is…
My best friend and most fearsome foe. Her opinions are occasionally at odds with mine, especially when it comes to British Royalty and rabbits – I love one, disapprove of the other. She feels the same but in reverse.
My mother is…
Tender sympathy and stalwart defiance when publishers, friends and lovers ditch me.
My mother is…
A heartbeat away when I am lying foetal clutching the divorce papers my second, and definitely last, husband served on me.
My mother is…
There to catch my tears when my child, the one and only, leaves home.
My mother is…
Artist and angel, devil and poetic diva, winged and wounded. I dread that I am becoming like my mother, fear that I am not. I know one day she will leave me earthbound and fragmented while she scrapes the colours off sunsets and recreates celestial wonder, amazing even God. And when she finally leaves, I know she won’t look back and that is just as it should be and I will limp along and try to be my mother for my daughter as I deliver a kaleidoscope of remembered advice and unwavering love.
My mother is…
Still here. Thank God.
Wendy’s latest novel, Fields Of Grace, is available to buy now from your favourite book shop.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog as much as I enjoyed putting it together. Without the amazing support and encouragement from these ten truly lovely ladies, this post wouldn’t have made it from my imagination to the ‘page’. Their emails and messages have brought a smile to face, sparked long-forgotten memories of my own, and reassured me that cake and books will be my perfect companions for this year’s Mother’s Day. However you spend your day, I hope it’s either full of of happiness, or happy memories.
click on any of these book covers to jump to my book review, and purchase links