What would you do?

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Having spent most of the weekend with a sick toddler with stomach flu (thankfully it afflicted only one of the twins – so far at least!) I was reminded once again of how motherhood has changed me. I absolutely hate any kind of stomach ailment but as I comforted my distressed son I found myself wishing that it was me, not him, who was going through it all. As a mum all I want is to take away my children’s pain. I feel a ferocious sense of protectiveness that has never extended to anyone else. I certainly empathize when my husband is sick, but do I wish it was me instead? Not on your life. When it comes to children though – there is no limit to what I would do.

I haven’t ever explored this in my writing but as a reader I have found a renewed appreciation for books such as Sophie’s Choice. When I first read this I was horrified and saddened but I had no real point of reference. The decision, unimaginably awful as it was, remained an abstraction. Now I’m not sure I could re-read the book, I would feel so such a visceral reaction to the decision that Shopie had to make. How could a mother decide which of her children would be saved?

The power of fiction for me is how character’s decisions – their guilt and torment – resonate with readers. I have found that since becoming a mum there are certain things that resonate now that never fully resonated before. It may sound obvious but I think this fact alone has made me realize how as a reader my experiences have changed the reading experience as well as the craft of writing. I don’t think now I could face writing about crimes against children – for the horror of such things now affects me in a way it never did before. I could, however, imagine a parent (and I’m not just limiting myself here to women) doing almost unimaginable things to protect their children. The question for me is not what would a parent resort to in such-and-such a circumstance but what would they not do.

If a visceral response to a character’s choice and actions is so dependent on a reader’s own life experiences, I wonder how, as a writer my work will change and grow. Will there ever come a time when I can dispassionately write about things that, as a mother, I now find impossible to even contemplate? I certainly would have no problem writing about a mother who would totally kick-ass to protect her children. Sarah Connor would have nothing on what I could imagine doing.

What books have resonated with you based on your own experiences? What issues provoke such a visceral response that you too feel like you would take up the Sarah Connor mantle?