Friday, March 02, 2012

A Date With Kate - My Mother's Legacy

Next Sunday would have been my mother’s birthday. She would have been 96. She was born in Clones County Monaghan in Ireland - the same place as the boxer Barry McGuigan but years apart. She was, quite simply, an amazing woman. But then I would say that – wouldn’t I?

But that little girl born March 3rd at a time when Ireland was torn by deep divisions and violent rebellion, grew up to become the young woman who won not just one but three different scholarships to Trinity College Dublin, but was unable to take even one of them up because she became ill with tuberculosis. In order to recover, she went to live in Davos, Switzerland where she met, amongst others, the poet Llewelyn Powys. The truth is that she wasn’t terribly impressed by him as a person, but I have several books he gave her that are signed to ‘a beautiful young poetess’ – so he seems to have felt differently about her!

The outbreak of the war brought her home to Ireland and to marriage to my father. She had met him in Dublin, when her brother brought a friend along when they went to a production of Julius Caesar starring James Mason. She spent most of the war years in England, looking after children in a nursery and becoming the Warden of ‘a club for directed women workers’ in Newark, Nottinghamshire. Later, she and my father moved to Yorkshire. She had five daughters, of which I was the third.

Sadly, my parents’ family broke down. She moved out and started training to be a teacher, gained her teaching qualification, a degree, became a teacher, then the deputy head at a junior school, then a counsellor at the local Catholic High School. She worked tirelessly for the local church and community and finally became a female deacon, being awarded a Papal Medal by John Paul II in 1981. She was deeply involved in bringing together differing faiths and communities and even travelled to Pakistan as part of a group wanting to strengthen links between them. When she died we had a dozen different priests of different denominations who all wanted to take some part in her funeral because they valued her so much.

And that’s the briefest summary!

Cancer took her from us too early, just at the very start of my writing career, but at least she did know about it. In the same summer that we learned she had the terminal illness, I got the letter (we didn’t get ‘The Call’ then!) from Mills & Boon to say that they wanted to buy my very first book, The Chalk Line.  It came just in time. I was able to tell her that I had achieved my dream of becoming a published writer and in the last few months of her life to show her the contract when the revisions were accepted and the book finally bought.

Sadly, she never read that book – she wanted to wait, to see it in print and read a published copy, but died six months later without ever having seen it. But she did know about it and for that I will always be grateful.

My mother taught me to read. She instilled in me a love of books and reading. Because of her there were always books available at home to feed the reading hunger she created. She also dreamed of being a writer herself and had several poems published in her early twenties. I have one hazy memory of her sitting at a writing desk we had in our Yorkshire home, writing away on what I thought were letters, but later, discovered that in fact she was working on some children’s stories. I don’t know what happened to those tales – which is such a pity as I think she would have been a magical story teller herself. My sisters and I spent many happy hours listening to the stories she told us as we settled in bed, ready to sleep. None of those stories came from books but were the creation of a vivid imagination that wove long, fascinating stories about ‘Toodie in Booland’ - a place where Rosa and Fanny Rosa lived in a cottage by a pond, with their friend Duck - and ‘The Land of The Beeweedonians’!  She used to leave those stories at an exciting point, always ending with ‘But you’ll have to wait until tomorrow . . .’  so bringing home to hook that a cliffhanger  provided without ever having to explain what  that word meant.

She also read aloud to us – often by a real coal fire so that we cold curl up beside her,  close our eyes, and see the pictures in the story inside our heads where the images were much more vivid in our imaginations than any illustrations – much the same as it’s said that radio plays always have the best scenery because you imagine it for yourself. And listening to those stories, concentrating solely  on what I was  hearing, focusing on the way characters behaved, the dialogue they spoke was the best possible training ground for learning how a novel worked on an instinctive and gut level.

I have no doubt that listening to those stories and then drifting off to sleep with them in my head, I took the first steps on the road to becoming the writer I am today, with a storytelling skill learned, literally, at my mother’s knee! I made up stories to myself, finished off the tales she hadn’t yet  brought to an end, imagined how the characters she had created or read about would have behaved. And I learned the basics of simple, straightforward story-telling , building up excitement, using dialogue as a result.  Though I have to admit that I always say that I got my first book published when I mentally told my mother to go away and stop peering over my shoulder when I was trying to write!

She never actually did, of course, but it was just that thinking about her - or anyone else - reading what I'd written - was terribly inhibiting and stopped me from writing freely. So I had to put all thoughts of that out of my mind. But I would have loved to have seen her holding and reading that very first book of mine.

One of the strongest and most  important legacies my mother left was the love of books. There were always books available.  Always time to read – and always time for those story telling/reading sessions. The times that I remember even now when I’m setting out to write  one of my own books.

Thanks Mum – and Happy Birthday. I wish you could see the books that are lined up on my shelves now – and I wish we could be celebrating your 96th together.

Who gave you your love of books  and reading? Was there someone who first influenced you to love stories, who read aloud to you  – or who helped you learn how to tell those tales that we all enjoy?  I have a small giveaway of a 3 in 1  collection  By Request – His Suitable Bride to give away to one person who leave a comment. This has a reprint of my story Cordero’s Forced Bride – and it also has a  novel by Abby Green in the collection. Which is appropriate because Abby shares my Mother’s birthday on March 3rd.  Happy Birthday for Sunday Abby!

Kate’s latest novel The Devil and Miss Jones is out today  in Mills & Boon Modern Romance and will be released in Harlequin Presents Extra in April. You can find out all her latgest news on her Web site or her blog.

Charlie has picked a winner for the copy of His Suitable Bride  - and the winner is
I'm also adding a special extra prize - as a birthday gift for  Rita's sister who share my mother's special day (I'm sure she'll let you share it Rita!)
Ladies, please send me  your postal addresses to kate AT


  1. Kate, this is the loveliest post! Thank you so much for sharing. Your mother sounds like a remarkable woman as well as a wonderful mum. I think a love of reading is one of the best things a parent can share with their children.

    It was my dad who fostered that love of reading in me. One of my earliest memories is of lying in bed and him sitting on the chair beside me, reading 'The Wind in the Willows' a chapter at a time. I found out later he found it frustrating that I was ready for sleep after a chapter as he wanted to keep reading! He was the one who took us to the library on a Saturday morning too. He still reads voraciously though he has eyesight trouble and has just finished 'The Count of Monte Christo' to great delight.

    I have to say this 3 in 1 edition of yours looks gorgeous. I haven't seen it on the shelves here.

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  3. What a lovely post, Kate. My mum and my grandmother were the ones who encouraged my love of reading, and that's something I've passed on to my own children. Thanks for sharing. xx

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  5. What a moving post, thank you for sharing.
    I was a 'sickly child' and spent a lot of my early school years in bed. There was a small bookcase at the end of the bed full of books that overflowed from my mother's collection. I read them all, and they gave me my love of books.
    I would love to win your lovel prize.


  6. Wow, such an interesting lady. If you ever consider writing non-fiction, your mom's life story would sure be a fascinating story to tell, and to read.

  7. Thank you for sharing those special memories of your mom. What an inspirational women, I'd be so happy if I could achieve what a life she had, truly moving.

    My sister who's birthday is also on the 3rd March gave me my first M&B and brought me to love reading. I use to live for the weekends when I could get my hands on her books...

    Wow I'm so glad I managed to get my hands on your title - The Chalk Line - I find it hidden in this quaint little bookstore!

    I'm holding thumbs and toes that I get to win your amazing prize ;o)


    bitemeash (AT) gmail (DOT) com

  8. Hi Kate ~ Your mother was a remarkable woman. Thanks for a bit of her story.

    I always remember reading but I think it was probably both my parents who encouraged reading. We never had a TV at home so reading was a great form of entertainment. My mom did introduce me to Harlequins though.

  9. My apologies for coming in late to reply to everyone - building work means that sometimes the electricity is turned off - at the most awkward moment!

  10. Thank you Annie - I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I totally agree with you that a love of boos and reading is such a valuable thing to share with a child. Funnily enough, my Dad gave me a copy of The Wind in The Willows - I still have it - but he never read anything to me. That was really my mother's territory.

    The cover on the 3 in 1 is l,ovely isn;t it?

  11. Hi t'other Kate! Thaks for commenting - I know you and your children share the love of reading. I've seen it firsthand and it's a great thing to share - I share so many books with my son too

  12. Hello Sherry - thanks for coming by. All those books must have made up for having to stay in bed so much. I always think that the only good thing to say for being unwell is that you get extra time to read!

  13. Summer - I haven't written about mky mother's life (except here) but I have collected up as much information as I can. Recently I found a whole collection of her letters from when she was young and that was a real treasure trove.

  14. Rita - please wish your sister a very Happy Birthday from me. And thank her too for introducing you to Mills & Boon novels. I'm amazed that you managed to find a copy of The Chalk Line - it's almost an antique now!

  15. Hello Kaelee - I'm glad you enjoyed reading about my Mother. She was remarkable - there's a lot more to tell if I had the time! And I know what you mean about finding reading so imnportant when you didn't have a TV - we didn;t have one in our house until I was 11 and even then viewing was strictly rationed so I was a\lways happy to read as much as I could.

  16. Charlie has picked a winner for the copy of His Suitable Bride - and the winner is


    I'm also adding a special extra prize - as a birthday gift for Rita's sister who share my mother's special day (I'm sure she'll let you share it Rita!)

    Ladies, please send me your postal addresses to kate AT