In the run up to Christmas, the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency will be posting an entry from one of our authors each day, offering anything from writing tips and their inspiration, to Christmas memories and their wishes for the year to come.
(Eileen Gormley and Caroline McCall)
Christmas 1998, I was down the country visiting my parents, waddling my pregnant belly up to Midnight Mass and wondering how much turkey I could eat before the baby arrived. It wasn’t due for another week, so I planned to enjoy Christmas.
At 4am, I shook my husband: “I think that was a contraction.” Despite trying to convince me to go back to sleep, I finally got him up and started making breakfast. “You’re not in labour,” said my mother. “You couldn’t stand there making scrambled eggs if you were in labour.”
We drove back home, and got to admire the emptiness of the roads at 6.30am on Christmas day. When the contractions started again I called midwife and asked if it would be born today… Christmas Day. “Contractions every ten minutes? Yes, I think so!”
In between contractions, we opened Christmas presents. My husband had given me a ghetto blaster and I put on the one CD I owned – Queen’s Greatest Hits. I discovered that dancing to Killer Queen and Fat bottomed Girls was the best way to handle the pain. My husband suggested massaging my back. “Keep your hands to yourself,” I snarled. “No one touch me.” I wiggled my hips energetically.
Then the baby arrived. A little girl, blue until she breathed and turned pink. An amazing, astonishing, lively girl who was instantly the most beautiful person in the entire world. I have no idea how long we stared at her, before I realized it has been a long time since the scrambled eggs and I’d done a lot of hard labour since then. Only one problem. We had planned to spend Christmas with my parents so there was no food in our house… Almost no food. In one corner of the kitchen was a Christmas pudding, a single carton of custard and a bottle of Champagne. Nothing had ever tasted so good!
The festive season holds mixed memories for me. Hearing the opening bars of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ is often enough to reduce me to tears. As well as the mad round of Christmas shopping and parties, December is the anniversary of my mother’s death.
There is little in this life more bleak than a funeral at Christmas time. While everyone else was celebrating, we were trying to contact family members and bring them home. At a rain-lashed graveside in early December, six sisters clung to each other while we sang a final hymn to the woman who had brought us into this world.
So many things have happened in the decade since then. You could say that I fell into writing by accident. As a genealogist, part of my job was to assemble facts and records into a format that was meaningful for my clients. But after the cases were closed, I found it impossible to let go of the stories. Long dead strangers popped into my head at odd times and I began to wonder, what if?
After that, I was lost. I got used to living with a cast of characters inside my head. I’ve become an avid people watcher and a compulsive eavesdropper, especially on public transport. Once, I got off my train at the wrong stop so that I could follow a couple discussing the millionaire, the wife and the Navy Seal. Writing is not so much a passion, as an addiction.
Plotting and deadlines are as much a part of my life now as eating and sleeping. When we got the opportunity to write the Pleasures Series for Penguin, my writing partner and I became familiar with both. By the time this Christmas season is over, we will have written almost half a million words together – not bad for eighteen months work!
I often wonder if my mother would approve of having an erotica writer for a daughter. Would she come to the book launches? Be thrilled to see the exotic covers on the bookshelves? Would she be as excited as I am to see the Pleasures series translated into French, Czech, Italian and even Japanese? I think that she would.
This year, my Christmas song ambush came while I was seeking inspiration in the lingerie department of a posh Dublin store (As you do in my line of work!). And for the first time since she died, I didn’t want to cry. If she was with me, we would have gone for a nice cup of tea and a mince pie and perhaps some gentle teasing about my latest racy offering.
Merry Christmas, Mum.