There’s nothing like a storm to make us all realise how vulnerable we are to the forces of nature and appreciate the things and more importantly, the people in our lives. Not that I have any great tale to tell; Liverpool has got off relatively lightly so far but I did make a trip to London and was caught up in the travel chaos just before Christmas. And it was that trip that got me thinking.
I arrived at Euston in time to catch the four o’clock train only to hear an announcement that there had been a power failure and all trains had been suspended. I was tired and I not only wanted to get home, I wanted to be home! An hour later there was another announcement, the signals were still down but two trains were being allowed to leave. One was to Manchester which wasn’t where I needed to be but it was close enough. I joined the stampede and was fortunate enough to get a seat. Still wondering how on earth I was going to get from Manchester to Runcorn to pick up my car and with no direct connecting train, I had a text from my sister. She said she would come and pick me up. I could have cried, not because I was even going to consider letting her making the 100 mile round trip on a stormy night but simply because I knew that she was there for me if I needed her.
I arrived home at ten o’clock after another train and taxi ride, tired but immensely relieved and yet my sister’s text played on my mind. It had made me realise how lucky I am to have two brothers and a sister in my life. There’s a saying about not being able to choose your family but they’re the ones we all turn to in a crisis. Okay, sometimes we drift and lose touch with some relations but the relationships we have with our siblings are probably the ones we will take to the grave.
And there lies the problem. I couldn’t help wondering who would be there for my daughter. When my son was born, she was seven years old and I was comforted to know that she would grow up with a brother who was going to be at the front of the queue vetting her boyfriends no matter what the age difference. Nathan would be eleven now and the impact of his loss must include that gaping hole in her life. My daughter is an only child again and I don’t know who she would turn to on a stormy night when I’m too old to come to her rescue. With any luck there will be a partner or spouse (yes, this post could have been quite different if I wasn’t single), and if not then cousins or maybe close friends but in this day and age are any of those relationships as resilient as the connection between siblings?
It made me stop and think about how I develop family structures in my writing. In my first book, Yesterday’s Sun, Holly was an only child but in Another Way to Fall, I created a sister for Emma. Obviously as the author I had the freedom to choose the supporting cast for my characters. Holly needed a strong sense of independence to be able to her take a life and death decision on her own so instinctively I made her an only child. Emma on the other hand was facing her own mortality and I couldn’t let her do that without a sister by her side.
The point is, the families I created around my heroines complemented the fate I had already chosen for them but real life doesn’t work like that, does it? For most of us, life isn’t a singular plot but an eclectic mix of trials and tribulations. There will be times when we will fare better on our own and then other times when we will need someone to turn to for help. I’m lucky enough to be able to have that choice, my daughter doesn’t, and not only her but a growing proportion of our society. Families are shrinking and in time there won’t just be fewer brothers and sisters but fewer aunts, uncles and cousins too. So what will we do to replace that kind of support network? Will we make more of an effort to stay in touch with distant relatives or perhaps nurture more friendships? With social media it’s certainly feasible but is that enough? Will those virtual relationships ever replace hands-on support? I have no answers, all I can do is be grateful that when I needed support I received an offer of help rather than someone ‘liking’ my status on Facebook or retweeting my sorry tale.