Carol Cooper is a family doctor, a well known media medic and an indie author whose novel One Night at the Jacaranda has been nominated for the Indie Excellent Awards 2014. Find out more about Carol here.
It was business as usual even though my father had died in the night. I went on breakfast TV to talk about some health story, saw my patients, did some writing. In between were carefully timed calls to each of my sons to tell them Granddad had died.
All very controlled, composed. The next day I went to Liverpool for a conference.
There was no time to process what my father’s death meant but then, I’d lost him decades ago anyway.
Most families are complicated. My father moved out when I was about four. Although my earliest memories go back to my second birthday, if not before, I remembered nothing of him.
Just recently I looked through an ancient photo album. It was a jolt to see evidence of the three of us together: my parents with me as a young child at the beach. That at one point we had been a family.
For years after he left, he and I had little to do with each other. It was my grandfather I called Papa. As I became a teenager and then an adult, we began seeing each other again, and gradually grew closer despite living on different continents.
Though we never developed the easy family intimacy I’d craved, I’d often go over with my children to spend some time in New Jersey with Dad and the wonderful American woman he’d married when I was about nine. By now he’d retired from a career in life insurance and did charity work, but he was still the archetypal Brit abroad, sustained by Harrogate toffees and Tommy Cooper videos.
Now, a few days after my father died, my eldest son and I were headed to Princeton, New Jersey, for the funeral. The seven-hour flight to Newark gave us time to talk about Granddad.
As Julian nodded off, I sipped my gin and tonic and started jotting things down on the napkin. I collared cabin staff for another napkin. Julian stirred and asked what I was writing. “Notes for an article” I said, unsure what I had in mind.
Those notes developed into a plot about a motley group of singletons in London, all trying to find someone special. Many of them lie about who they are, in the hope of making themselves more attractive. Lawyer Laure gives herself a name and a job that will show her at her best. Single mother Karen is emerging uncertainly after years of intense childrearing. Au pair Dorottya isn’t sure who she is to begin with, but she is by the end. Geoff is a doctor whose work seems to have lost a sense of purpose, while ex-con Dan has to invent a life to cover a missing period of six years inside.
Although it’s a racy romance, One Night at the Jacaranda has its darker side. My book has nothing to do with my father, I kept saying, but who was I kidding? When you don’t know your roots, you can feel you’re missing part of yourself.
I finished this novel, and there are plenty I didn’t. I didn’t connect that, then, to how my father had always wanted to be a writer. But I know it’s no coincidence that the characters in ONATJ are searching for themselves, as well as someone special.
Or that they discover they can only succeed in a relationship when they’ve discovered who they are.
Is One Night at the Jacaranda the kind of book my father would have wanted me to write? Absolutely not. I think he’d have choked on one of his Harrogate toffees if he’d read it.
But he is its inspiration, nonetheless. The reason I created it, the reason its characters are so complex.
And I like to think he’d have spotted that its hero works for a charity.