Her drinking fuelled my creativity

A Family Affair; THIS WEEK, A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER TALK ABOUT SUPPORTING EACH OTHER'S CREATIVE CAREERS
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The Independent Culture
Author, journalist and artist Molly Parkin, 66, was born in South Wales. She was fashion editor of NOVA magazine and then went onto Harpers and The Sunday Times. Her daughter Sophie, 37, is also an artist and author. She has a son and a daughter and lives in London.

Molly

Sharing a creative bond is the latest development in my relationship with Sophie. She's now finishing her second book and is halfway through her third. Sophie has always been a highly creative child; she went to art school at seventeen and was very much like myself as a child - interested in writing, illustrating and drawing. She also had a baby and started writing at the same age as I did.

Sophie's writing took root when she split up with her partner and came back from Spain with two small children. She and I lived together in Earls Court. At that time I was writing my autobiography. It was valuable for her to see me working with total dedication.

When she did start writing, I didn't give her any advice at all. I was thrilled when I did read the scraps she had written. It was a story of a child with an alcoholic parent and I thought it was very good. I think we must all validate our own childhoods. I've had an alcoholic past and seen my mother go in and out of mental homes; you do turn your life and experience into material.

I found it daunting at first that Sophie was writing, then inspiring. She had a huge reception with her first novel. I thought, "Oh my God" - it's like handing over the reins. That's maybe how Kingsley Amis felt when Martin started writing.

Sophie's little girl is also highly creative; she's been a huge help to me. The older you get, the more likely you are to give something too much thought. Since alcoholism, I've had to build up my social identity as well as my own creativity. Sometimes the thought processes can get in the way. The spontaneity of grandchildren is very helpful, just because of the freedom in their approach. Even when I used to drink, I always had to be sober in order to write. The example of seeing Sophie with her tremendous work discipline really influenced me. It's nice to have that type of support within the family - she is hugely sympathetic.

What's lovely is when you can see this creativity coming through in another generation, especially the girls. I feel so strongly about female bonds in families. When you're friends with your mother, it means you can trust other females. It's a blessed thing to have. With Sophie, having our work in common is an additional bonus. We've come through so much together and it's a lovely feeling. It's plain sailing now.

Sophie

I've been very influenced by my mother's creativity. When she used to drink, she could so easily have gone off in another direction. Yet she was very disciplined. I think if you see that as a child, you absorb it as a possibility. In my family, there is this understanding that you follow your heart: never to settle for what you're given but to go after what you want. I've never had a proper job in my life and I would never have a job in an office. But my mother always says, "Do what you love". It's a fallacy that you can't earn money by doing what you really like.

When I split up with the father of my kids six years ago, I came back from Spain and my mum was working on her autobiography. I'd been a painter up until then and I'd never written properly. Seeing her being so committed and professional made me understand that if you're going to start writing, you must do it professionally otherwise you're just playing; you're not taking it or yourself seriously. Creativity within a family means there's a special understanding. If you go to friends who are fellow creative beings, there's always going to be an element of competitiveness; a slight little edge on anything you discuss. But with relations, there aren't those hidden agendas. We write very different stuff anyway, although we both have the same sense of humour.

Many novelists have a bad time about being found out for the real-life origins of their material, but my mother can't criticise me for that. She's written about the same area and we've gone through so much of it in public.

You can learn from other people's mistakes. I've watched my mother go through turmoil during the alcoholic part of her life. Consequently, I know I would never be able to go down that road. Not only because of the effect it would have on my children - as it did on me - but because of the effect it would have on my creativity.

There's a belief that alcohol feeds productivity, when it does the exact opposite. I'm so proud that she has overcome the demon drink and is back to being the best she always was. It's great to see the kids staying with her in Wales while I'm trying to finish my book. She'll be off doing her writing and they'll have some space on their own. They understand that work can be part of home life; that you don't have to wear a suit and go to an office.

I think what makes our friendship is that we don't just exist within the realm of the mother/daughter relationship. It does exist now, but it's more in the past. We've moved into a maturer way of perceiving one another - there isn't any jealousy, just mutual encouragement because we're both in the same game.

`All Grown Up' by Sophie Parkin is published by Review (Hodder Headline) on 11 August

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