I've had in mind for a few weeks something of the story which I will tell in my new novel but today was when it really began. Not with an opening chapter, not with an episode. Not with a bit of the story itself. What I wrote today was a kind of scene-setting and a homing in on a voice for one of my main characters.
Judith Whitaker will be the main finder out of what has been going on and in due course we shall see her Uncle Freddie's story unfold through her eyes, supplemented by sections from Freddie's and his brother's viewpoints. In this snippet, Judith is a youngster taking an affectionate but critical look at her family. It's not for the novel itself, it's for my notebook. And it's a marker for future reference.
Today I began writing Whitaker's Basin.
Judith Whitaker was not going to be a scientist. No way. Her mum and dad were both scientists. Well, that’s what they said, but they weren’t really. Not proper scientists like working at NASA or even at Jodrell Bank, nothing like that. They were teachers which was boring. Her dad taught biology and her mum taught chemistry in the same school which meant they were always going on about school this and school that. Luckily they weren’t at Judith’s school which would have been been absolutely dire. Imagine it. Well, no, don’t. Even the thought’s too horrible.
Uncle Freddie was a scientist once, a pretend scientist like the rest of them, but he gave it up and became a vicar. Or, rather, he didn’t. You have to be Catholic or Anglican to be a vicar. Methoes and Congoes and Baptoes and potatoes just have ministers. Uncle Freddie explained that. Actually, he explained it every time anybody got it wrong about what he was and even Judith had to admit that it did get a bit tiresome. There was once when he was going on about it for the ninety-seventh time and her dad said, ‘Oh for fuck’s sake, Freddie, does it matter?’ Everybody stopped eating – they were all at the dinner table, everybody including the cousins and Grandad – and then Judith got the giggles cause her dad had blurted out, ‘Fuck,’ and they all sort of relaxed. And Uncle Freddie, a bit sheepishly really, said, ‘Yes, right. Sorry.’
It was Christmas, that was, and her dad always got a bit niggled at Christmas. Because it should have been nice and fun and super and everything and he hated things that spoiled it. And that was the trouble, because he and Freddie had grown up with spoiled Christmasses. Their dad, Judith’s grandad, was landlord of the Number Three. So on Christmas Day Freddie and Ken would be on their own while Gran and Grandad were in the pub. Gran would have to dash back and forth between the bar and the kitchen, ratty and harassed in the kitchen and jolly and ho ho ho in the bar. Grandad would get steadily more sloshed jollying it up with his customers. And then, with hardly any light left in the day, they would eventually get their Christmas dinner.
So when Grandad retired they got a couple of years of normal. Uncle Freddie was in God School so he and Auntie Edith and the cousins were free to come back to Cheshire for a few days and the whole family could be together for a normal Christmas. An ‘Oh for fuck’s sake’ Christmas.
Judith had found thirteen occasions to utter her dad’s gem before any grown-up heard her. She and Belinda were having an argument about who was the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Judith said it was Ronald Dahl and Belinda said the name was Roald. She kept on about it until Judith said, ‘For fuck’s sake, Belinda, does it matter?’
‘Oi!’ said her dad and he slapped her gently across her bum with a Christmas cracker.
‘And it does matter. It matters a lot,’ said Belinda.
Ah well, Judith thought, she got to fourteen which was pretty good really.
After that Christmasses went back to silly because Uncle Freddie finished at God School and went to be not-the-vicar-but-the-minister of a church in Staffordshire so, like Grandad, he had to work on Christmas Day. At least he didn’t get sloshed before dinner. But it meant that the only way they would get Christmas dinner at the proper time was if Judith and her mum and dad went to Staffordshire.
So it was, ‘Do come to the midnight service,’ and then it was, ‘Come along to the morning service. It’s nothing like normal church. Very jolly. You’ll love it.’
Judith loved Uncle Freddie to bits but she was like her dad. She didn’t actually hate church as much as he did. Midnight carols were quite fun really. A bit atmospheric. But her dad grumped his way through everything until he sat down to the lovely roast dinner that Auntie Edith put on.