I went to Cyprus for my half-brother’s wedding and to search out my roots (I’m half-Cypriot). I wanted to get an understanding of why my Dad had to flee from Cyprus in 1958 and to meet long-lost family. My sister joined us from South Africa and met our dad for the first time in forty years! We had both fled from our childhood in different ways and never spoken about it, but it all came out during this holiday and has now been put to rest. Phew!
A couple of weeks before we left, my father-in-law became very ill and we were told he wouldn’t make it through the night. For a week we were waiting for the dreaded phone call which came six days later. I didn’t want to leave my husband, but he preferred to have some time alone and insisted I still went to Cyprus.
While I was sitting at the airport with my daughter, I realised that it was exactly a year ago to the day since she’d been diagnosed with cancer, and we’d focused on that trip to get her through it. We never thought that day would come, but it had; I was totally choked-up and set her off.
The day after we returned from our quest, we had ‘Grandad’s’ funeral. He was a lovely man, a cheeky chappie who never a bad word to say about anyone. He lost his wife thirty years earlier and had never got over it or remarried. He spent a lot of time with all his children and grandchildren.
There was a photo on the coffin of him copying Morecambe and Wise’s pose, which just summed up his cheeky spirit and I had to fight the tears again. It was such a shame he had to go. It hit my husband harder than he expected. He’s now lost both parents, and as we left the crematorium he tapped on his dad’s coffin – for some reason, that image has never left me.
An Empty Nest
We are now flat hunting for my kids and trying to sell our house so we can realise our retirement dreams. It’s looking promising, so I’m tearful because they are leaving. I am the last person to get ‘empty nest’ syndrome, but I think it’s more to do with the fact that I don’t want them to feel abandoned or lonely than it is to do with myself feeling lost.
So, what has all that got to do with writing?
Well, amongst these goings-on and in-between the tears, I started to write a short story for a competition. Writing soothes me and usually, I write too much and have to edit lots out, but I tried really hard to be concise this time and wrote it in 750 words. However, I realised later that the piece needed to be 1500-1700 words and I therefore had to expand it.
As I read and re-read it on the plane to Cyprus, I felt that it said all that needed to be said, and that there was no way I could double it without putting things in for the sake of it, so I left it for a couple of weeks. Upon my return, and after the funeral, I couldn’t find the energy to do anything around the house so I sat down with my story again. With a bit of teasing my story came to life. I’d often read articles where writers say this but it had never happened to me before; now I understand. In the end my story was 450 words over and I had to edit it, but I had a good feeling about it.
Edit, Edit, Edit!
I’m not sure if I’m in a minority, but I like to edit. I read my stories over and over, put them down and come back to them later and read them again. I read them out loud so I can see how the dialogue sounds. I’m trained the old-fashioned way to write everything fully: no shortened words, no slang, but in reality people don’t speak like that, so I have to change the dialogue to be realistic. However, I still cannot bring myself to put a comma before ‘and’ or start a sentence with ‘but’, because this wasn’t how things used to be done (*Note – any commas seen in these places will have been added by me! (Diane)).
Editing is how I change my natural way of doing things; every improvement I make pleases me and gives me a sense of achievement that I have made my story into the best I can do.
Copyright © Helena Johnson 2013