Getting in on the sister act

I was inspired by Jess Ryder's recent post about sisters, to herald publication of her new book The Good Sister.

Her comments about sisters resonated with me. As far as I knew, I was an only child. That was until I visited my father after a gap of ten years to find I had two adopted brothers. I was 17 at the time of the visit.

Four years on, at college, Dad began a phone conversation with the unforgettable phrase "Are you sitting down?" and announced that after years of being unable to have children (hence the adoptions) - my stepmother was pregnant. My sister was duly born, and there are 21 years between us.

To make my experience of sisterhood more complicated, my wonderful grandmother (shades of her are in my second novel) was pregnant with my aunt, when my mother was carrying me. (Keeping up?) My aunt is just six months older than me - to the day, somewhat weirdly, but as mum went to work, my grandmother looked after us both. So she was my almost-sister.

And all was fine between us until she went to school and suddenly there was a whole CLASS year rather than six insignificant months between us. In the school holidays, we played together as before, but in school, she looked down her nose at me in the way that second year schoolkids do at the newbie first-formers.

We never recovered our closeness, but I always yearned for it again. Our lives have taken very different paths, one filled with children and a husband, the other filled with a career. The awkwardness which combines with the real affection is something I've tried to replicate in The Garden Plot, my first novel. Here, an older sister Charlotte is fretting about the loneliness of her younger sibling Samantha, wrapped up in the business of their now dead father. 

Like my aunt and me, Charlie and Sam have been separated by their choices. Charlie is married to a Tory MP keen to maintain a spotless reputation, and Sam is a workaholic, die-hard liberal, almost honour-bound to disagree with everything her brother in law says.

From Pride and Prejudice to D H Lawrence's Women in Love to Jennifer Weiner's In Her Shoes, sisters often have love-hate relationships which makes them prime fodder for novels, providing, as Jess Ryder comments, all the conflict and tension you need to write compelling prose.

There's something too about the relationships between women... but that's for another blog.