One popular myth about writers is that they are tortured souls whose work derives from unrequited love, financial hardship and general misery. They scratch away at their manuscripts by the light of a guttering candle in some solitary garret.
Not me. I dispensed with my misery in my childhood. Thirty four years ago this month I got married and my success as a writer, such as it is, I attribute to the emotional stability I have enjoyed for a third of a century. I work best when I’m happy. I run all my writing past Rosie, my wife, and if she says something needs to be cut or changed, I cut it or change it.
However, back in 1972 the announcement of my intention to get married was not well received. The seventies followed hard on the heels of the intoxicated sixties like the onset of a colossal hangover. Social norms had been toppled and were lying all about us in disarray. The job of clearing up after the party had not yet begun. Perhaps that explains the general negativity of my friends at university. One flatmate summed it up by responding to the great news with the question, ‘Why?’
‘Because we love each other and we want to spend the rest of our lives together,’ I told him. He looked unimpressed. ‘You don’t need a piece of paper to do that.’
My parents were even less enthusiastic. ‘Don’t tell your father!’ was my mother’s reflex response. ‘I think he might notice, Mum,’ I pointed out. ‘At least wait until the end of the summer,’ she begged.
Wearily I agreed, eighteen years of living with my father having conditioned me to a process of walking on eggshells. When the end of the summer came I decided I would wait no longer and broke the news. His reaction was entirely predictable. He objected and said he would not be coming to the wedding. I told him he wasn’t invited. That was the end of communication between us for a very long time.
In the end he did come to the wedding. He was prevailed upon by his sister, a nun in Philadelphia, who came over from the US with the specific intention of making him do the right thing. She was my father’s younger sister but the only person on earth he seemed to fear. A ferociously patriotic, hard line Republican, she was not standing for any nonsense. He was going to the wedding whether he or I wanted him to and that was the end of the matter.
Earlier that summer I had come to the end of my time at university and was working on a building site while applying for work as a secondary school teacher. The news of my impending marriage had leaked out onto the site where it was greeted with ironic amusement. One of my fellow labourers, a hard-drinking man, gave voice to the considered wisdom of the site in a fine example of metonymy: ‘It’ll be all sweetness and light until she gets you to the altar. Then you’ll see a change. You’ll come home at night to the cold dinner and the hot tongue.’
I’m pleased to say that his prediction proved wide of the mark.