People often ask if the novels I write are autobiographical. The answer is no, except for my very first one, destroyed long ago. My writing, like that of most authors, is coloured by life experience, of course. People and their stories have inspired me; familiar worlds have provided authentic settings. But none of my characters have been taken from real life and my plots are pure fiction. Pure fiction and yet… From somewhere deep in my psyche, past traumas have emerged and found their way into my writing.
Just over forty years ago, I suffered a miscarriage at twelve weeks. Hardly an unusual event: it happens in as many as one in four pregnancies. However, the effect on me of this loss was profound. The nine months it took me to get pregnant a second time seemed more like nine years. I was obsessed, inconsolable at the signs each month of yet another failure. This, despite having previously felt in no particular hurry to start a family. I went through all the usual stages of grief: shock and disbelief, anger, guilt and depression. Hormones were partly to blame, no doubt. Even when I was finally rewarded with a positive pregnancy test, I didn’t dare hope. A threatened miscarriage at ten weeks drove me to my bed for a month until the danger time had passed. My reaction was, in the eyes of most people, disproportionate, but at that time there were no self-help or support groups as there are now and I felt isolated in my grief.
Once I held my precious son in my arms, eighteen months after the miscarriage, I was fine. Or thought I was. Another pregnancy two years later passed without a hitch and in any case I was too busy to worry. I now had the two children I wanted and the earlier loss sank into the far recesses of my mind.
It was only when I started writing fiction that I began to realise the deep-rooted and enduring effects of losing my first baby (or potential baby). Lost babies, aborted babies, stolen babies, surrogate babies became a recurrent theme in my novels without any conscious intention to write on the subject. I realise now that as a result of my experience, when I read reports of, for example, stolen babies, it reawakened my own long-dormant feelings of loss, triggering my imagination and empathy.
In the early nineties I wrote a novel from the point of view of a woman who had stolen a baby after her boyfriend pressured her into have an abortion; and from the point of view of the girl (now fifteen) who had grown up thinking this woman was her real mother. Later I brought in the birth parents.
My first published novel, Secrets of the Pomegranate, has motherhood as an important theme (I can’t say more without revealing the plot). In my current, just-completed novel, The Red Gene, the scandal of Spain’s stolen babies is central. In addition, one of the characters experiences a miscarriage, another a stillbirth; one suffers the neonatal death of her child. These events are relevant to the plot though they comprise only a few pages of the novel. I suspect my own forty year-old trauma is now finally out of my system and will not reappear in my writing. Which leaves me wondering what will turn up next to surprise me.