It was my birthday on Friday. I've got to the age when birthdays are questionable things to celebrate, but then again, each one really does become a matter for celebration simply because you're still around to celebrate it. Sadly, I have a close friend who is living her last days on this planet, and being with her and thinking about her sure heightens my appreciation of life and sharpens my awareness of mortality.
But I'm pleased to say that I had a wonderful day with friends and family. Food, wine, shared stories and a great deal of laughter, these are the things that are precious. I'm blessed with my own family, I have a wonderful husband who makes me laugh every day and who has taught me to understand how giving to others is a gift to yourself also. I have a son whose positive traits I take absolute credit for (he has no negative ones! - except, his wife tells me, a tendency to OCD, which I have to take the blame for...), and a delightful daughter-in-law whose bright, bubbly personality brings sunshine to all our lives. And I have a bunch of friends whose company cheers me and whose support I know I can count on if times get tough.
So Friday was a day of thinking about all these things. Life, death, love, friends, families - they are all the stuff of novels. In novels, throw a bomb into the middle of any permutation of that mix and you get the kind of drama starting to play out that provides the conflict needed for a story that grips. As novelists we have to think ourselves into situations that – please God - we will never have to experience ourselves. That's where our imagination comes in. But we also have to draw on our own experiences in order to enrich what we write. One day, of course, I will have to walk the road my friend Jan is walking right now - but when I do, I hope I will do it with the spirit and courage and grace she is showing all of us.
In the meantime - sorry Jan! - expect to see a character, sometime, inspired by her masterclass, because for novelists no experience is ever wasted.
Joanna Trollope claims that older writers make better writers, because of the greater breadth and depth of experience they have to draw on. That's why I'm celebrating the marking of another year.