My friend, Sarah Butler, talked of the deep happiness she felt when her first novel, Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love, was launched two years ago. Now with only days to go before the launch of The Green Table, I know that I’d once have felt the same. As it is, much has happened in the last ten years since I wrote the first page, on an Arvon Foundation writing course led by Celia Rees and Jan Mark at Lumb Bank. Both tutors encouraged us to begin a new work over those four days in September, and I remember sitting in a writing hut in the garden, overlooking the steep wooded valley and talking to Celia about Amsterdam and the Nazi Occupation, and how I wanted to write something about a young girl who was determined to dance. As I began to write, I remembered Hilde Holger, a Viennese Jewish dancer I trained with briefly in a basement in Camden Town. She was a very old lady, fiery and passionate, who had survived, and danced despite the daily threat of being discovered by the Nazis. I heard her voice shouting at us as she banged her tamba, and the first scene wrote itself. The novel for teenagers was written within a year. I loved it wholeheartedly for a short while.
It’s a long time ago. There have been many disappointments and I’ve struggled to be patient, to keep on working regardless of outcome – success or failure. I’ve drafted two versions as a book for teenagers, and a further final draft for adults. I’ve learnt how to refine and edit and take criticism, and now the launch feels like only another stage – albeit a happy one, in a long continuum.
The book arrived from my publisher only days before a crisis with my very old parents that has cast a long foreshadow over the summer. Holding it in my hands I felt nothing but a distant wonder that at last, after so many edits, redrafts, and proof readings there it was, with its fine cover designed by Adam Craig.
I showed it to my father only days later, as he lay in bed with his broken hip. I will read it, he said, but not now. I know he never will. He was a great reader and took pride in my work but it has come three years too late for that.
Those who have cared for old parents will know the terrain. In the last two weeks my heaviness of heart has been balanced by moments of wonder – watching the crows preening on the rooftop, a shimmering stand of golden poplars – that seem extraordinary and beautiful. How at the hardest times, the brilliant moments sustain.
Now I look forward to my book launches in Manchester and Wirksworth, and hope it’s the beginning of a new phase in my life as a writer.
Tricia Durdey dances, writes, and teaches Pilates.