How It All Began


by the author


town in suitcase

© Tiff20 |

While I could go into navel-gazing details of how I came up with Libby, Oliver, Sandra, et al, it wouldn’t be very interesting for anyone. For example, the short answer to how I came up with Sandra, the mother-in-law from hell, is easy: a deadline-induced state of adrenalized panic, when I was writing Libby on a weekly basis at The Displaced Nation.

As for the fictitious town of Woodhaven, Massachusetts, well, I’m very familiar with the place. It’s the setting of my work-in-progress novel (which at the moment seems very far from anything resembling in-progress) and some of the characters from that manuscript have already appeared in Libby’s Life. Melissa Harvey — now Melissa Harvey Connor — is the girl I love to hate. Frankie and Anna Gianni, of the Maxwell Plum restaurant, are also old friends of mine, along with Frankie’s mother, Carla. Poor Carla. She’s had a lot to cope with over the years. She wasn’t always the sad figure you meet in Episode 11.

More characters will come along in due course, as Libby settles into life in this northern town.

For now, though, I’m going to tell you a bit more about our plucky little heroine. It’s easy to dismiss her as “just a housewife” but, as you will come to see, she’s a fighter.

It’s a mistake to underestimate Libby.

I first met Libby in March this year. I was visiting friends in Milton Keynes, and had run out of reading material, so headed for a book shop. Libby was there at the same time, with her two-year-old, Jack — an adorable little thing, clutching a stuffed red car — and she struck me as a woman who had lost her way in life. Lost her identity, you could say, among the shelves of Pampers and Johnson’s baby products.

You can tell a lot about people from the books they buy. Although Libby and I met in the chick lit section, she already had three self-help books in her shopping basket. “Finding yourself after motherhood.” “How to be who you want to be.” “Living and Working in America.”

“Are you moving to America?” I asked.

To my discomfort, her eyes filled with tears. “I haven’t any choice,” she said.

In my experience, there is only one cure for the moving upheaval blues — coffee and lots of chocolate croissants. I took the books from her.

“We’ll come back later for those. Today’s your lucky day. You’ve met the right person to talk to.”

We went to Starbucks and, over a large vanilla latte and Danish pastry, Libby started to open up. Perhaps she was rather too open, considering we had only just met, but sometimes it’s easier to confide in a stranger than in your closest friend.

Her life had been turned upside down, she said.

She admitted that she was tired of being just a wife, just a mother, just a daughter. She had been a stay at home mother for three years, and in that time had felt her personality slowly being leached away.

Husband Oliver had strongly encouraged her to stay home with little Jack — Oliver wanted Jack to have the family life his own mother had never given him — but now Libby needed something else. Something for herself, beside finger painting and Play-doh.

She had just put the wheels in motion by talking to her old boss about returning to work when Oliver dropped the bombshell.

“I get my life in order again, and this happens. Massachusetts!” If Libby had said “Wormwood Scrubs” she couldn’t have said it with more distaste. “This summer! Yes, I wanted a change in my life, but not like this. This is Oliver’s choice, not mine, but I don’t feel as if I have any right to object. Do you think he’s having a midlife crisis, even though he’s only thirty-three?”

I watched her stuff a piece of Danish pastry in Jack’s mouth. Libby has dainty hands that she waves about a lot, so you’re always half-reaching to move drinks cups out of her way. Her hair is in a mousy blonde pixie cut, and she has big blue eyes that make her look like a Disney cartoon animal. She’s Tinkerbell, without the attitude problem.

Personally, I thought her husband was not so much having a midlife crisis as taking advantage of a temporary imbalance of relationship power that, at the moment, favoured him.

The balance would shift one day, because pendulums of all kinds swing, but I knew it was pointless to tell Libby that her day of power would come.

“Massachusetts is a nice place,” I said. “It feels a lot like England, in many ways. You want my advice? Go. Enjoy the experience. Think of it as a door opening, not one closing. Besides –” she had already told me a little about Oliver’s mother “–wouldn’t it be a good thing to move away from your mother-in-law? The view from 3000 miles has to be an improvement.”

Libby nodded. I could see her watching the proverbial glass become half full instead of half empty.

“But what will I do with my time there?” she asked. “Jack will be off to nursery school soon.”

I hadn’t the heart to tell her that most women I’d seen in her situation seemed to fill their time with serial pregnancies, so instead, I said, “You could start a blog.”

“A blog,” she repeated. “Yes, I could.” She thought a little more, gazing out of the window of the traffic.

“I’ll call it Libby’s Life,” she said. “Yes. I like the sound of that.”

Click here to read Episode 1 – It’s Life, all right, but not as I know it

© 2011 Kate Allison