I’ve been missing my characters, the ones that are rattling around, half-formed, in the novel that will follow What Milo Saw. I miss that regular interaction which makes them so familiar that they become part of my daily entourage: so familiar that I end up calling my husband ‘Milo’ and my cat ‘Willa’. I miss the hours of uninterrupted writing that allows me to go deep as opposed to the surface skimming of snatched moments. Dare I admit it, I sometimes wish I could press a pause button my little Tennessee – and the rest of the world – just long enough to catch up.
So today should be a good day. I’m writing. I’m with my characters. Tennessee is spending a day with a nanny who’ll be looking after her for three days a week from September. Samantha is as close to Mary Poppins as we’re going to find – better, in fact, as she has a gorgeous little girl, Emily, who has already adopted Tennessee as her little sister. Here’s how special Emily is: this morning she gave me one of her pens, ‘to write your stories,’ she said. Her tale of two escaped rabbits have inspired me to write a children’s story – watch this space. So Tennessee is in good hands. Samantha is a Norland trained nanny: to use the language of cars, my baby girl will spend today being driven around in a ferrari rather than having to cope with a clapped out Polo with a L-plate on its bumper.
Yes, it should be a good day. I’m sitting in Costa with my latte and my biscotti, ready to dive into those edits from Manpreet, ready to reacquaint myself with my characters who have been so achingly absent these past few months. And, for once, I don’t need to rush for fear that Tennessee will wake up at any moment – or cry, or poop or need some milk. Nor do I need to rush back to relieve my mother-in-law so that she can get back to her dog (her baby, her beloved husband) or to my lovely Mama who has to negotiate the M4/A34 traffic and get back in time to give her lessons (she’s over 70 and still she gives private lessons…amazing: I get my work-ethic from her).
And yet…I miss Tennessee. I miss the smell of her skin. I miss her snuffly noises. I miss the grip of her fist around my thumb. I miss her wriggling. And, early this morning, as I watched her sitting in Samantha’s car in her beautiful summer dress (will she be too cold? have I packed the right things?), looking up at me with her big, blue eyes, wondering why I was on the other side of the window, I broke down. Through the blur of tears I looked up at the blue sky and thought of all the things we could have done together: the walks, the conversations, the cuddles – how I could have spent this day getting to know Tennessee a little better.
I guess that’s the way of motherhood – and the way of a writer who, to get her work done, must have time alone – a room and a small income as my namesake, Virginia Woolf wrote – and, Woolf should have said, a nanny. And just as I miss my characters while I spend time with my gorgeous little girl, now I must miss my little girl so that I can spend some time with my characters. But I’ll love her even more tonight. I’ll read her face for where she’s been and what she’s seen and felt. And I’ll tell her about my writing because one thing I know for sure is this: I want Tennessee to be proud of her mother’s stories, even if writing them means a little distance and a little heartache.