I’ve been thinking about change a great deal recently, about people, places, the state of things. We’ve seen so much in the last year with Brexit and Trump, the death of personalities, and in my own life with Child Two leaving home for university, and Child One returning.
I’ve just purchased some more books – lovely old, well-handled books in calf bindings or tatty card – poetry, histories, and a biography. I’ve spent a lifetime collecting ceramics, glass, artefacts – things that resonated at the time or bore some sentimental connection to the past. And books. We have many, many books. They remind me of all the posts the late Carole Blake would share on FaceBook showing her recent bookish acquisitions. She was also an avid collector of modern jewellery and scale miniatures. Latterly, Carole and I would message about a piece of jewellery she had bought, or some Murano glass I had spotted.
We met most recently at the Historical Novelists’ Society conference. We talked about life and the importance of being grateful for each birthday because it meant we were alive. She paused then, gave a small smile and said ‘yes’ in a way that meant it mattered. She reached her next birthday only a few weeks later, but it was her last, and she died – unexpectedly to most of us – shortly afterwards. Untimely death reminds many of us of the fragility of life and of what matters. I wonder what happened to all her books and dollhouse miniatures she avidly and carefully collected? What did it all come to but someone else’s things to be passed on or sold off for a trifle of what they had meant to the former owner. Why do we spend a lifetime collecting things that often have no meaning to anyone else? I look around my well-stocked home (cluttered, might be a more honest way of putting it) and know that all but a few sentimental items will be passed down to my children because they simply won’t want my life – they have their own and the things that are meaningful to them.
I like auctions – you never know what is going to turn up – but there is also a sadness associated with them. They are one of the means by which unwanted items are passed to new owners, and it is common to see the entire contents of a person’s home being sold off to strangers. Collections frequently find their way to auction houses, and it is easy to imagine a lifetime spent acquiring tribal artefacts, Roman coins, thimbles or lace bobbins, only to have them dispersed to strangers on the death of the collector. The items move on, form the basis of other collections, become part of someone else’s life.
Writing inevitably means examining aspects of life. One of the themes in The Secret Of The Journal series is about change: facing it, fighting it, accepting it. My current novel-in-progress (set during the Wars of the Roses), also deals with change, from growing up, to facing life – and death – from the infinitesimal to the seasons that affect us all, the politics of the personal, to the history-changing events that touched many lives.