The photograph which forms the cover, and the inspiration, for The Ides Of Daisy March. was taken when my mother was twelve years old. She came from the ‘buttoned up’ generation. You simply did not talk about emotions; in fact, you didn’t really talk to your children at all. She was an only child and I was her only child. We both grew up fatherless, though for very different reasons. She was in her eighties before she told me about the trauma of being forced to leave her beloved foster mother, who she had believed to be her real mother. She said: I was five years old when my mother told me that she was not my mother … and then, all those years later, she cried. That stayed in my mind for many years until one day those words insisted on becoming the opening sentence of my new novel.
My mother was, of course, born ‘on the wrong side of the blanket’ at a time when the sins of the fathers (as they were then referred to!) were indeed visited on the children. I believe the circumstances of her birth, and the totally undeserved deep shame and guilt she felt about it, coloured her entire life. I wish she had lived long enough to understand that today she would have been just one of many whose parents have actively chosen that path. But I am not sure she would ever have believed that.
There is another character in my novel who is inspired by my own history. Like Georgie, my father was one of 40, 000 men who fought the rearguard action and stayed behind to hold back the Nazis at Dunkirk . This enabled the other troops to access the boats and be taken to safety. These men knew there was no escape for them. Unlike Georgie, my father was repatriated four years later riddled with tuberculosis, for which there was then no cure. My mother was pregnant with me when he left. He did not live long enough to ever give me a cuddle.
All these years on, I am mystified that those men, many of them who made the ultimate sacrifice, have barely been recognised. It is a received truth that without their bravery, we would probably have lost the war. Where is their medal? Surely it is more than time to honour and thank them.
The Ides of Daisy March was inspired by my mother’s story. But I am a writer of fiction, and Daisy’s story, and her career as a war photographer, quickly becomes her own. However, she has grown from truth, and I hope my readers will love her as much as I do.