D is for Dads and Daughters

Dis for dads and daughters. I’ll be discussing themes later in the blog (probably under T. Did you guess?) but when I started writing There Must Be An Angel I had no idea about the theme. In fact, if I’m being really honest, I didn’t even realise novels were supposed to have themes. Who knew?

When I finished the first draft it was very different to the story it is now. It had a different title and it wasn’t about Eliza’s search for her father at all. She went to Kearton Bay for an entirely different reason, in fact.  It was only gradually, as I began to work on that first draft, trying to turn it into something worth reading, that I began to think more deeply about who she really was, why she behaved as she did, and what she was truly searching for. Somehow, that progressed to her looking for her father – a mysterious, shadowy figure, only present in her imagination rather than her real life. The relationship between the hero, Gabriel, and his daughter was already present in the book. Add to that the tricky relationship between Eliza’s husband and their daughter and it soon became clear that fathers and daughters was the main theme in the book.

My own dad died back in 1994. He was only fifty-five years old – not much older than I am now, in fact. What kind of man was he? Hard-working is the first thing that springs to mind. He pretty much worked seven days a week for his entire adult life. He was a bricklayer and a very good one. I can point to several buildings in our area and think, quite proudly, my dad built that!

My dad, hard at work on the building site
My dad, hard at work on the building site

He was a gentle person. I remember my nanna telling me that when he was little, his brother, who was eleven months older than him, used to take his toys away from him, and she would tell him off and demand he give them back, and my dad would just smile at her and say, ‘It’s okay, Mam. If he wants them, he can have them.’ She said she’d never known such a patient, generous child.

Me, my dad and little brother, back in 1981
Me, my dad and little brother, back in 1981

I can believe that. He was generous to a fault. He would give me his last penny. When my own kids were little and I didn’t have two ha’pennies to rub together, I could always rely on my dad to bail me out. If I needed anything, if it was within his power to give me it, he would.

He was funny, too. He shared his mum’s dry sense of humour. He used to make me howl with laughter. He loved the sarcastic wit of Blackadder and the total insanity of the Monty Python gang. He would laugh himself silly at Dad’s Army and Porridge and Morecambe and Wise and Spike Milligan and Les Dawson. But real life situations made him laugh the most. I can remember many occasions when he’d come home from work and we’d be sitting at the table eating our tea and he’d start to tell us all about something that had happened at work, or something stupid that one of his colleagues had said, and he’d start laughing – and not be able to stop. It would take him absolutely ages to get the story out, by which time we’d all be helpless with laughter too. I loved to hear him laugh. His blue eyes would be bright with mischief and merriment and I’d feel all happy inside because I knew he was happy, and all was right with the world.

He loved reading and many nights we’d all be sitting in the living room – my mum, dad and myself – each with a book in our hands, completely absorbed in the pages, while my little brother and sister watched television. He loved reading about conspiracy theories and aliens and paranormal investigations. He was fascinated by ancient civilisations and convinced they were connected to the stars. He once told me believing in God was like believing in Cinderella, but he wasn’t averse to the idea that we’d all been dropped on Planet Earth by a race of beings from another planet.

He loved rabbits and dogs. He could happily have spent all his spare time at the bottom of the garden among all his rabbit hutches, or out walking the dog, or at a show. He used to get Fur and Feather delivered to the house regularly, and would read books on the standard for dogs, always keen to learn. We had loads of rabbits, from tiny little Netherland Dwarfs to a huge, lolloping British Giant, affectionately named Tiny. He had various dogs – a Yorkshire terrier, a German shepherd, a Shetland sheepdog, and a Japanese Akita. He would walk them on the foreshore before and after work – in spite of his tiring day and hard physical labour.

I dedicated There Must Be An Angel to him – my first hero. Because he was. I still think of him, polishing his shoes as he’d been taught to do in the army when on National Service in Kenya, as he quoted Wordsworth’s Daffodils to me. It’s still my favourite poem because of him. I still miss him every day. It’s been a painful twenty-one years without him, and I’ve coped in my own – not very healthy – way, by pushing him out of my mind, putting the photos of him away, refusing to think of him when he popped into my head. Then I convinced myself for a short while that I hated him. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFar easier to hate him than to acknowledge how much I loved him and how much I still miss him and long for one more day with him, just to hear that laugh one more time, just to smell his aftershave – Old Spice or Brut – and just to have one more cuddle from those safe arms. Bit by bit, I’ve started to allow myself to feel the pain and the loss. It’s really hard to do and sometimes I shut him out again.  Writing Eliza’s story has somehow helped me with the grief. There’s a lot of my dad in Gabriel. I didn’t even realise it when I was writing him, but looking at it now, I see things differently.

Dads and daughters. I could go on with this subject for a long, long time. But I think I’ve rambled on long enough now. Tomorrow is another day and I have a day off, but I’ll be back on Monday with another post. See you then!

Have a great weekend xx

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