“Mum and Dad won a car full of a thousand tins of baked beans in a competition before the divorce. When they split up, Dad got custody of the cottage. Mum took me plus the X-reg Mini. The tins were split fifty-fifty. They’re beyond their use-by date now but, Dad says, as he loads the car boot with the boxes, tinned food never goes off.”
from What a Way to Go, published today by Atlantic Books.
When I set out to write What a Way to Go in January 2012 I had no idea how to begin, what would happen in the middle, let alone how it would end or indeed if I’d ever finish it. But when I wrote the paragraph above in those first few weeks of composition, I felt I’d struck on something.
This photo of my parents (from a copy of the Rugby Advertiser dating back to 1983) was taken when my Mum had entered and won a competition run by HP in which she had to write a slogan to accompany a cartoon. Having a natural way with words, my Mum won the first prize of a sangria red Metro.
We ran the little car into the ground, and after it had broken down a couple of times on the hard shoulder, Mum rashly re-mortgaged our house and bought a brand new 2CV with a candy stripe green and white roof.
Sometimes, these little details from your life are just too good to let go to waste. And the fact that my parents had won a car which was promoted by a preserved goods company in the same year that their marriage dissolved held a deep resonance for me both as a child and as an author, too. So I decided to use the detail in my coming-of-age 1980s novel about 12 year-old Harper Richardson and her separated parents, Mary and Pete.
There is something survivalist about buying in bulk. I do it once a year because our house is halfway up a Welsh mountainside and we don’t have a 4x4 and I worry what would happen if the lane became impassible, because we seem to consume an unusually large quantity of chickpeas in our household. But normally, people stockpile when there is a threat hanging over their heads – whether it’s nuclear attack, impending bad weather, war, or maybe even the breakdown of a marriage…
In the first half of the novel, Harper and her parents are stuck in a pattern of survival. In the second half, I wanted to show how they slowly lift themselves out of this survival mode and begin to live life a bit more spontaneously, with less adrenalin in their system and a touch more joie de vivre.
I won’t say how the baked beans meet their untimely end, but let’s just say that when I lit upon their fate, I knew it was a fitting end for this emblem of Mary and Pete’s failed marriage.
To celebrate publication day today, I am giving away a signed copy of What a Way to Go and a baked bean key ring in a free prize draw (UK only) to subscribers of my occasional newsletter. Simply join my newsletter list by entering your name and contact details in the form on the bottom of my homepage and I will draw the winner at 9.00pm tonight --- if I can still see straight (I intend to drink a glass or two of bubbly this evening).
And, if you fancy reading more about the evolution of the book from its embryonic beginnings to publication, then do join the blog tour which is currently running until 19 January (details on the poster at the top of this post). Today I'm over on Poppy Peacock Pen's blog.
What a Way to Go is available now from your local reputable bookshops, or on Amazon.