Family Matters, by Ben Jeapes


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I wasn’t able to get to WOWiG (though I’m delighted by all the reports I’ve been hearing of a real success) as I had family plans for the long weekend. This did not stop the organisers loyally trying their best to win me over: “You could bring the family! There’s lots of activities for them to do …” Sadly they were thinking at the wrong end of the age scale. At the age of 57, I was at the younger end of the family gathering last Saturday.

Everyone has families. Some would rather they didn’t, but they are there. They may be no longer living, or absent (for better or for worse), but they still exert some shaping influence. There is no such thing as “no family”, just a family-shaped hole.

Many Bible characters are introduced as being the son or the daughter of someone, even if that person plays no further part in the narrative. Okay, it was a customary way of introducing someone at the time, but it’s also a great way of showing that these people did not just emerge out of a vacuum.

At the other end of just about every scale, even Jack Reacher, the hardest of hard men and the lonest of loners, is pretty well defined by his experiences of family as he grew up. (This is one of the few ways that the series aspires to any depth greater than a wet pavement.)

Of course, you don’t have to go into too much detail. One example: the children of the Narnia stories have families that obviously mean a great deal to them, but they are only occasionally referred to. (I think Digory’s mother in The Magician’s Nephew is the only parent who actually appears in person? But think of how much he goes through for her.) The first rule of most children’s fiction is to separate the children from the parents as soon as possible so they can have a decent adventure. And you don’t really want your grown-up hero being interrupted in a covert op situation to take a call from their mother reminding her how to make the printer work again. (Though it would work for comedy.)

But still, everyone has a family, and it shapes them. Where and who are your characters’ families? Who do they love?

Or loathe?

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of eight novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His most recent title is a children’s biography of Ada Lovelace. www.benjeapes.com

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