Family Affair: Divorce is like death
When Nicola Davies's husband left her and their two children for a younger woman, it was a bolt from the blue. Under the pseudonym Stevie Morgan, she wrote a diary about her divorce, `Beloved and Bonk', for `The Independent'. Now she has written a novel based on her experience. Nicola, 40, lives in the West country. Mary Shooter, 52, is her only sister: a teacher with four grown-up children, she lives in Wales.
Monday 15 March 1999
About two weeks after my husband told me he was leaving, in May 1997, I wrote a couple of pieces to make myself feel better, make myself laugh, and sent them to a one or two friends to make up for having cried all over them non-stop. They really liked them, so I wrote more and sent them off to The Independent. Publishing the columns was a way of communicating with my now ex-husband - we weren't speaking at all. I wanted him to see I was upset, but that I could be funny. I thought it was a way of getting him back. Crazy. He was very, very angry.
Then I had a letter from a publisher who'd seen the diary, asking if I'd thought of writing a comic novel. I had always wanted to write fiction - and I had no other way of making a living. Divorce is taken so lightly, as if it was like having your adenoids out, but all the women and men I spoke to were knocked for six by theirs. Two years later, and in a new relationship, I still have days where I can't do anything but cry. What I found out about women who had been dumped in similar circumstances horrified me.
Martin, the husband character in my novel is very, very horrible; my ex isn't. But Martin is not that important: he's the catalyst, the knife that cuts things into a different shape, so he's a cartoon combination. My ex has read bits of the book and doesn't accept it is fiction, but I can't do anything about that. I showed the columns to my children, now 10 and 11, and they were very upset and angry at first, but that was because their father was angry. Once we had talked it through, they could see the funny side and they knew I wasn't trying to be horrible. They could see it was making me feel better. Now they are really proud of me.
Very little is written about children going through awful things, and although the events are fictional in the novel, the feelings are very real and show that the children were terribly upset. I don't see emotions as things that you have to hide away.
My sister Mary was just what you wanted when your husband leaves - completely partisan, totally and completely on my side. Mary and I turn to each other. She is older than I, so her role can be quite maternal. She wasn't as surprised as I was when my husband left: she did feel he would be very angry when the columns came out. I think she thought they would backfire on me and the kids. But she's never reproached me for anything.
I swear this wasn't about revenge. I could have been far more horrible. People may call me a total cow for writing it. Well, I'm not, but I have to survive. Writing about it all has made me much more confident. I'd presented children's TV programmes but I never felt I'd been successful, unlike my ex. The column and novel have been terrifically exciting. I'll never regret writing about my divorce: this book saved me, otherwise I'd have had to sell my house and move the kids to where they didn't want to live. But a divorce is like death, your heart stays broken, but you accept the pain. We'll never be a real family again. I'm happy, but in a different way - I have hope, but not faith.
Our mother got cancer when Nick was two and a half and, as I am 12 years older, I looked after her a lot, so I was never quite sure if I was her mother or sister. I hadn't felt happy for a while about her marriage. I felt her husband, who worked away from home, was an absent father and didn't value their relationship. I didn't expect them to split, but I did feel a sense of relief, mixed with awful pain.
She started sending me the pieces she'd written, and I felt pleased as it meant she was coping, although she was very sad and unhappy. They gave her courage and pep and made her laugh. I felt if publishing them made her feel better, she should do it. The humour came across to me very strongly, but perhaps I tried to shut out the distress. I read the book in one day because, although it is funny, it was so painful I wanted it to be over.
I never worried about the effect on her husband - I'm more vindictive than she is. She was so loving about him just after the split - it was all her fault and so on - but I wanted her to be angry. I thought writing about it'd help. She seemed so happy when she married him, and he seemed so lovely.
I was worried that the children might read about it and be upset. I avoided talking to them about it as I'm not sure how to deal with it. But their anger seems to have dissipated - the columns and the book have been like lancing a boil for all of them.
I see very few differences between Nick and Jess, the narrator in the novel. She's got herself down to a tee. She can be the victim, but she can also be strong and independent.
Writing about it all has made her so much more confident, as if she's gone through the test of fire and come out stronger. Now I feel more like her sister than her mother.
Interviews by Hilly Janes
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