It’s been a tough few weeks. Decidedly grim in fact. My father’s health has taken a turn for the worst. It’s age and atrial affibrilation – which is treated in such a way that gives you brain damage over time so if the person doesn’t die of a stroke or heart attack caused by the atrial affribilation they die over ten or fifteen years from the treatment. It’s a bit of a worry.
So two weeks ago, I had to make a mercy dash down to Dad and Mum. We sorted out a lot of things they will need to help with this, the new level. They have decided to stay home rather than visit my brother’s for Christmas so they will be alone. This is the right decision but it’s sad for my brother and for Dad and Mum. I know they’ll miss each other. As it’s our ‘turn’ to visit McOther’s side of the house there’s very little I can do to help because they’re having an even worse time of it.
One of McOther’s brothers died. Like my Dad, he was unwell but he managed his condition with good humour, common sense and intelligence. We thought he would be around for a lot longer than this. It doesn’t quite seem possible. We got home to discover that my Dad has had another fall but that he and my Mum didn’t want to worry us while we were down at the funeral. They are being well looked after by their ‘network’, which is reassuring but a worry because I can’t see any way I will get near them until after New Year.
McMini was excused school last week and we took him with us. Doubtless some of you will raise your eyebrows at the merits of taking a 4 year old to his uncle’s funeral. The fact is, we wanted to say goodbye and if we want to do something, McMini has to tag along. Because the buck stops with me and his dad. There is no-one we can leave him with. In the event, he coped extremely well.
However, as you can imagine, everything has felt a little unreal the last few weeks. I wondered if that’s why I seem to have kept a level head. Those feelings of unreality insulating me from the truth, but now I think it’s something else.
When we got home we had some parcels to pick up from the Post Office Sorting Office which they’d tried to deliver while we were away. So while McOther and his other brother stayed home with McMini I drove up there to pick up the parcel. On the way home, I went to the supermarket to get some milk. As I bipped my bottles at the auto pay station I could hear the automated voice of the machine beside me saying.
“Unexpected item in bagging area.”
The ‘unexpected item’ turned out to be a two year old girl, ‘helping’ her Mum. It made me laugh and I realised that it’s been these small normal things; shopping, conversations with McMini, washing up the dishes, stuff like that – and, yep, even writing – which has kept me grounded among the unreality of grief. I am a mum and I must look after my son many of these things which, on my own, I might have let slide, have to be attended to. And now I realise that these small events are the solid earth upon which I stand.
It struck me that this aspect of Real Life is relevant to writing fantasy science-fiction. If you want people to get their heads round bizarre creatures and outlandish locations you have to build these things on a credible bedrock. Your readers have to have that level place. There have to be certain generalities of geography or custom – or personality in your characters – for your readers to hang onto if you want them to ‘get’ the rest of it.