Yesterday I settled my godson into his new school, Frensham Heights, a wonderfully creative, happy place where I know he will thrive. As his mother is in Switzerland, I was what was called ‘in loco parentis’, standing in her shoes as I handed him over to his new world, a world that I had helped him to choose a few months before.
I know that he will be changed by everything that surrounds him, from the location of his room on the upper floor of the boarding house (the girls’ wing only a stone’s throw away) to his acquisition of a new language which will shape his mind and his understanding of the world. He will make friends, sit in classes with new teachers, understand new concepts, visit new places, experience new emotions, especially as he is far away from his family. The displacement of children always provides a powerful friction for change. And a narrative will unfold in front of him, a story he will tell his own children one day.
And then, as I sit at my desk, I take up my pen and place a new character, Willa Wingfield, into my next novel: The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells. Willa, a little girl with a scar on her cheek from where she was attacked by an urban fox as a baby, a character I am already falling in love with, a child who, a little like Milo in my previous novel, will weave together the narrative threads of the people around her: her sister, Leo, her father, Adam, her stepmother, Justine and her mother, the woman who walked out on her when she was just over a year old. All these characters are my children, and I am building their worlds too, but at present my heart is with Willa, just as it is with Adrien, my godson, as he settles into his new school.
And then, most alien and real of all, is the little being growing inside me, nearly fifteen weeks old now. Not big enough to make her kicks felt yet but powerful enough to turn my stable, ordered life upside down. Weeks of morning sickness, hormones like jelly beans rattling around in my mind and heart, my skin and hair and nails unrecognisable, tears ready to brim over at a second’s notice. And so, if I am honest, it is not me who is building her world, but she (or he) who is building mine. And that, I suppose, is the difference between fictional children or the children of others and your own.