BOOKS / Second Thoughts: God's asleep nowadays: Tim Pears on his first novel In The Place of Fallen Leaves (Black Swan, pounds 5.99)

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The Independent Culture
MY grandmother saw ghosts. Many of the houses she lived in were, she discovered, haunted. If the spirits were nasty she opened all the windows and ordered them to leave; if benign, she enjoyed their company. My grandfather was in the Navy, at sea for months at a time (the first thing he'd do coming home on leave was to beat his children for their misdemeanours while he was away, knowing their mother would have spoiled them).

When I was small, Granny was a white-haired old lady who gave herself as many pills as she gave us Smarties, and who bemoaned her countless ailments. Once a flame-haired beauty, now her knees were wrecked from too much tennis (she won amateur trophies playing mixed doubles with my one-legged grandfather, who camped on the net while she scampered around behind him); her eyesight was shot; her insides were all over the place. She said my older sister was the only one of us who understood her, because when Granny said she wished she were dead only Annie agreed. Needless to say she had a hypochondriac's resilience, and lived another 25 years, to the age of 90.

Granny was eccentric, generous and rather stupid. She exasperated our grandfather, who responded with withering sarcasm that passed her by - a real Margaret Dumont to his Groucho. She held strong views she felt no need to justify, made decisions without the benefit of logic and judged people by the most unfair criteria, like disliking someone because their hairdo reminded her of someone else. I loved her, but I didn't take her seriously.

The grandmother of the narrator, Alison, in In the Place of Fallen Leaves is not a portrait, but the character is certainly inspired by my grandmother. By the time I came to write it I realised how stupid I was. I wanted to describe her with all her foibles but also with a dignity I'd hitherto denied her in my own mind.

Still, I didn't want to make it easy for the character. Her prejudices remain intact, and she has silly things to say, like 'God's asleep, that's the trouble these days,' and 'like I always said, they should never have replaced horses with cars.' The odd thing is, after the book was finished I realised I agreed with her.

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