Me, Margaret and Sheila
Recently, I was giving someone the elevator speech for my new novel—the two minute summary every writer has ready in case they bump into an agent or Hollywood producer in the elevator—and she smiled and said ‘more sisters, I see.’
I wasn’t sure what she meant to begin with, but then I thought about my other stories.
In my first book, Gorgito’s Ice Rink, there are two pairs of siblings, and in each case, a nine-year boy loses his older sister. In 1949, Gorgito’s sister, Maria, falls in love with a soldier and runs away to be with him. In 2004, Dima’s sister, Yulia, leaves Russia and her family to train as a skater in America.
In many of my short stories and flash fiction pieces I feature siblings, and there is normally at least one sister. I can think of only two stories featuring two brothers, and in neither are the characters particularly well-developed
In the new novel, Counterfeit!, I introduce siblings Suzanne and Charlie Jones who are drawn into the fight against the manufacture of fake medicines in Southern Africa—with dangerous consequences. And, as this is the first in a series of at least three novels, I’m going to be writing from a sister’s point of view quite a bit in the next few years.
When I came to analyse why this should be, it was quite obvious really; I know much more about sisters than brothers and we are always told to write about what we know. I come from a family of three children—all girls. On my father’s side of the family, the vast majority of cousins are female.
I am eight and ten years older than my two sisters, Margaret and Sheila; so when we were growing up, I didn’t get to know them as well as they knew each other
And although we all went to the same Primary and Grammar schools, I was never in the same school at the same time as either of them. They were in Primary School when I went to University and teenagers when I got married. I never went to a dance, a disco or the pictures with them. Our shared childhood memories revolve around special occasions such as Christmas and weddings, when we all got together, whereas they share memories of day to day living.
But as one gets older, age difference becomes less important. Now I am in my sixties and they are both in their fifties, we consider ourselves as contemporaries. And we have got to know each other much better. In some ways we are all very different, but I’m sure if our husbands got together to compare notes, they would agree we are very similar in other ways. For example, all three of us are permanently busy as we take on far too much, trying to cram 36 hours into each day.
Sheila lives in the Midlands of England, not a million miles from our first home in Birmingham. Margaret lives in the Highlands of Scotland. I live in Devon. So we don’t see each other as often as we’d like. But on the few occasions each year when we all get together, we talk, laugh and bicker like all the best families do.
Some years ago, Margaret bought us all a fridge magnet saying: ‘Sisters by birth, friends by choice’. I know what she means. And I think that’s why so many of my stories feature sisters in one form or another.
Read all about Elizabeth's Gorgito's Ice Rink here.