Helene Young finds a little piece of her mother often slips into her stories.
Of the six books I’ve written, only one has a mother and a daughter with an uneasy relationship. This wasn’t something I set out to do deliberately, but I think I subconsciously wrote what I knew.
My mum recently passed away at the grand old age of 93. She’d morphed from the fire-breathing dragon of my childhood (said with the utmost affection) into a little possum, with big sleepy eyes and a halo of snowy white hair.
Before she married she’d been in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) during the war and then a Methodist Deaconess. Once she married, later in life, she was a stay-at-home mum who did tuck shop duty, meals on wheels, charity work and church work. Her generation of stay-at-home mums single handedly kept the welfare system afloat doing their civic duty looking after the old, the young and the infirm as a matter of course.
I’m the youngest of three so by the time I arrived Mum and Dad’s parenting skills had mellowed — and my brother and sister have never let me forget it… As an older parent Mum was big on discipline. Dad, who worked away from home as a ship’s engineer, was big on fun. Every day he was home was a party. I realise now that for Mum every day he was away was a struggle. She was a single parent with three rowdy children.
Mum had blinkers on when it came to her children. In private we had to work hard to gain her approval. In public she was a fierce lioness, protecting her offspring from any danger or criticism. She did battle with teachers, swimming officials, dentists, and on one memorable occasion when she tried to pay a speeding fine for me, even policemen! It could be embarrassing… But also endearing.
With an enquiring mind and a tenacious streak she always maintained she would have made a good policewoman. That probably contributed to her love of crime fiction, which definitely contributed to my love of Agatha Christie! And she was the one who introduced me to Georgette Heyer. No surprise then that she loved romantic suspense novels and I went on to write them.
Somewhere along the way Mum and I became friends. She made me laugh with her serious lack of humour. My husband, Capt G, teased her unmercifully, but she loved him for it, even though she didn’t always get the joke.
Every time I write an older female character a small piece of Mum finds its way into the story — never the same quality and not necessarily the good ones.
I suspect that mothers are harder on their daughters because they want them to survive. They understand that to do well, to have it all, as so many of us want, we need to be strong, capable and determined. I have many friends who’ve made their peace with their mums when having children themselves helped them understand some of their parent’s decisions. I also have friends who still struggle to maintain that relationship with all the sharp edges.
There is a tipping point where the parent becomes the child again and with that comes the grief of realising they are slipping away from us. I’m grateful that neither Mum nor Dad succumbed to dementia and that we had them right to the end, even as they became more frail and dependent.
If I have any regrets it’s that I didn’t record Mum telling me her life stories. I wish that I’d told her more often how important a role model she’d been for me. I wish she’d made it to the 27th May for the release of Northern Heat because I know how much joy she got from her ‘after thought of a daughter’ writing stories, but she’ll be there in spirit. And there in one of the characters.
I know I’ll continue to explore the dynamics of mothers and daughters in many more stories. I also firmly believe there can never be too many hugs between a mother and a daughter. Have you hugged yours recently?
In steamy northern Queensland, Conor is rebuilding his shattered life. Working at Cooktown’s youth centre has given him the chance to make a difference again, and the opportunity to flirt with Dr Kristy Dark. The local GP is hiding her own secrets and struggling to raise her feisty teenage daughter alone.
When a severe cyclone menaces the coast, threatening to destroy everything in its path, tensions come to a head – and the weather is not the only danger. Cut off from the world and with her life on the line, Kristy will have to summon her courage and place her trust in Conor, or they’ll both lose someone they love.
When Helene Young’s not writing novels she enjoys a busy career as the Queensland Regional Flying Manager with Australia’s largest regional airline. She has twice won the highly coveted RWA’s Romantic Book of the Year in 2011 and 2012 and was shortlisted for the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Crime and Suspense. She has also been nominated in the Ned Kelly and Sisters in Crime Awards. A motivational speaker and writing mentor, Helene lives aboard a catamaran on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef and she plans one day to sail around the world in it.