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Why I celebrate my characters’ birthdays

I’m 34 today and I’ve had a wonderful day.  I love birthdays.  Not in the narcissistic ‘everyone look at me wearing my party hat and opening my presents’ way but in the simple sense that it gives me a chance to reflect on the beauty and mystery of being alive.  The miracle of birth.  Birthdays allow me to show gratitude for the existence, the aliveness, of the people I love – and for my own life.

Celebrating being alive is particularly poignant this year.  And extra special too.  Because when I woke up today, the first thing I did was to go into my little girl’s nursery, to pick her out of her white sleigh-cot and to kiss her all until she wriggled and squirmed in her mummy-get-a-grip protest.  And because, as I carried Tennessee down to the kitchen, I walked past a bookshelf filled with copies of What Milo Saw.  My first birthday as a mummy and my first birthday as a published author. Could being alive get any better?

Sure it can.  Mainly because of the people who’ve been so kind.  And because, kindest of all, is my husband, Hugh, who  holds a diametrically opposite philosophy to my own when it comes to birthdays (the less fuss the better) and yet still honours the fact that I love them by making mine special.

An ‘infinite’ white rose that, by some feat of plant-engineering, will stay alive for up to a year.  Give me a single rose, just a single rose, I’ve begged time and again in the face of yet another drooping bouquet. Cut flowers depress me.  Picked to die.  And with me, for some reason, they die disproportionately fast – while still in the bud, in fact.  I don’t know why, they just do: within a few days, there’s a stinky droopy mess stagnating in a vase.  So, Hugh found a solution.  A living-preserved rose to put on my desk.  And then there’s the beautiful framed photo of me holding Tennessee when she was only two weeks old, a scrunched up newborn in my arms, that I found in my study first thing this morning. Alongside a bar of 80% dark chocolate.  And a head-massage booked in Crowthorne later this afternoon.  And, above all, Hugh’s wonderful surprise visits that have punctuated my day.  He’s just dropped into Costa while I was writing before dashing back to lessons.

Which takes me to a golden rule I have about birthdays.  They should be spent doing the thing you love most in the world.  I’ve taught this morning and I’ve gone for a sunlit autumn walk through the Wellington woods and I’ve done some marking, but the biggest chunk of today will have been spent writing.  Doing what I love most.  I’ve been crafting a new scene for my second book.  A deepening of character of action as part of the editing process.  Besides the people we love, who always come first, we all have something that drives us, that makes meaning of our lives.  For me its writing stories.  And that’s why my characters’ birthdays are so important too.  I celebrate their existence.  They’re in my birthday book.  In my diary.  And their birthdays often feature large in my narratives.  Milo’s Christmas Day birthday that forms the resolution of What Milo Saw.  Willa’s birthday in the May bank holiday the setting of my second novel, Home Again. Jess’s April Fool birthday in When I Hold My Breath, my YA novel.

I’m grateful for the lives of my characters, just as I’m grateful for the life of the people I love.  And for my own life.  Every day.  But especially today.  The 7th of October.

And now I’m off to cuddle Tennessee…