Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Tuesday Talk-Time - What I Learned From My Mother

Kate Walker is telling the Pink Heart Society what she learnt from her beloved mother...

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 99. 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, as I’ve already mentioned, 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. 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’!  

Another vivid memory I have is of her reading  Irish Folk tales and legends to us as we all sat round  a coal fire on a dark winter’s evening.  It was a  night for telling ghost stories but my mother would never let us hear any really spooky tales. ‘If you knew what the dark was really like,’ she would say, ’then you wouldn't  want to mess with it.’ I often wondered what sort of experiences when she lived in a big, gloomy house on the outskirts of that small Irish town, were behind that statement, but she never explained.  I grew up to love a good ghost story in spite of her warnings!

Later, there was Mother's bookcase  available to me and my sisters. From that I grabbed books by  Dickens, Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Bronte. There were some  by  local authors - and friends of my mothers - Phyllis Bentley and  Marguerite Lees; Marguerite Lees's books were the very first Mills & Boon novels I ever read.

My mother gave me a love of reading, but more importantly she gave me a love of stories and the old-fashioned art  of story-telling. 

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! 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.

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 99th  birthday and the publication of my 63rd book together! 

Who taught you to love reading  and stories?  Can you remember  being told bedtime stories - or the first books you ever read?

That 63rd book of mine  Olivero's Outrageous Proposal will be out at the end of March /early April.

My  latest releases are two reissues -  first there's Kept For Her Baby which is out in the 3 in 1 By Request called Secret Love -Child. 

And coming up next, there's the reissue of The Konstantos Marriage Demand  again in a 3 in 1 collection - His Revenge Seduction.

And the 12 Point Guide To Writing Romance is now available on Kindle. (I hope to have some extra news about that 12 Point Guide - for people who prefer print books - very soon.)

You can catch up with all of Kate's news on her website  or on her blog.  You can also find her on her author page on Facebook.


  1. What a lovely story about your mother, Kate. She sounds the most amazing woman with her long list of achievements (not least having five daughters!) and she really was very beautiful. As you know, my own mother was born in Clones and I was there in November of last year. I love it. It's a strange, magical place and the people are delightful. :-)

  2. Hi Sharon - and thank you! Yes, I remember that we share something special with both our mothers being born in the same place - such a coincidence. Clones is a lovely place but I haven't been back there for years. I must go and visit again soon.

  3. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story and introducing us to your Mum. Have a wonderful celebration tonight.

  4. Thank you Sherry! I'm looking forward to meeting up with my sister and raising a glass to Mother tonight.

  5. What a beautiful tribute to your mother. And congratulations on your 63rd book!

  6. Thank you Julie - it's one of those special coincidences that my post was scheduled for Mother's birthday - and I did owe my love of books and stories to her.