Article published on April 21, 2017.
I am writer…and a mother. Typically, the contents of my handbag include: keys, coins, lollipops, hair bands, plasters, umpteen pens (so that’s where they all end up), a small plastic person with his head missing, a sort of scurf of biscuit crumbs, a pebble and…a receipt with some precious words scribbled on the back. “Thunder like rock fall. Chapter 6- John must tell his family!” Sweet relief. At least this time my gnomic message makes sense; my crucial plot point and my fabulous simile may even make the page.
Fictional writers sit calmly in cafés, tapping their ideas into their top-of-the-range computers, or transcribing them into their moleskine notebooks. Perhaps wearing a kaftan. I juggle my writing with a young family, a dog and a part-time job. Receipts are sometimes the best I can manage.
When I was deep into the first draft of my recently published novel, Open My Eyes, I tried to stratify my brain function; I imagined it like those jars of coloured liquid, oil, water, alcohol, all with different specific gravities. While on one level I was buttering toast, or tending to a verruca, on another level I was having a passionate fictional discussion with an Ethiopian doctor about the fate of an abandoned baby. Did my technique work? Have you ever boiled and egg pan dry so that the egg exploded, coating the kitchen walls? I have. Twice. The baby was more interesting than the eggs.
Real life, especially life with kids is messy, raw, imperfect, chaotic, but stories can help contain the chaos of life, to channel it, and give it meaning. Sometimes, time constraints can work as incentives, intense windows of creative expression. Anyway, the way we get ideas itself is unpredictable. What matters is catching them when they come. Top tip: receipts.
Alice Allan, 2017
About the author
Alice Allan grew up in rural Devon and read English at Cambridge University. She worked as an actress and as a corporate trainer in London and Tokyo, before qualifying as a lactation consultant after the birth of her children. She worked in public hospitals in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where she trained hundreds of health workers about breastfeeding, and was an advocate for skin-to-skin and kangaroo care for premature babies. She has contributed articles on mothering and breastfeeding to a range of publications. She currently lives in Tashkent, Uzbekistan with her diplomat husband, two daughters and a large Ethiopian street dog called Frank. Open My Eyes is her first novel.
Open My Eyes That I May See Marvellous Things is an original and captivating debut novel from Alice Allan set in Ethiopia, drawing on the author’s own extraordinary experience working with midwives and new mothers in Addis Ababa championing skin-to-skin ‘kangaroo care’ for premature babies.
How can you hold a baby next to your skin without it touching your heart? When adopted midwife Mariam embarks on a project to protect an abandoned premature baby in Addis Ababa, she is forced to face her own abandonment years before. Time is running out before the baby is sent to the orphanage. A mysterious character from the city surrounding the hospital will be crucial in determining the baby’s fate, as will a workaholic British doctor with whom Mariam finds herself falling in love…
Open My Eyes That I May See Marvellous Things by Alice Allan, published on 30 March, 2017 by Pinter and Martin, in paperback