It was 2012, an autumnal evening in Bergen Norway. I was enjoying the dusky snap of coolness between the short summers and long winters, with my friend Nina as we walked her dog up Fløyen mountain. The steady steep incline would give us panoramic views of the city and the fjord. But although our bodies were in the Northern city, our thoughts and minds were elsewhere.
Nina and I walked up Fløyen every week while we discussed writing ideas.
We were discussing ideas for writing projects. In particular, what book I was going to write next. I had spent the past two years working on a novel that I had failed to get into print. On top of that I had been dropped by my current publishers. I was trying to stay positive. It was time to let the old book go and work on something new. I was itching to create new characters and new worlds.
I found myself telling Nina about my father, whom I had met only twice. I remembered stories my Mum had told me about his life in London in the Sixties working as a graphic designer. I was a big fan of Mad Men at the time. There was something about Don Draper that made me think of my father. When I looked at the few photographs I had seen of my father, he appeared as glamorous to me.
Inspired by the world of my father who worked as a graphic designer in sixties London.
‘Why don’t you write about your father?’ Nina suggested.
But I was nervous. Could I depict a protagonist inspired by a father I never knew? After all, although I had no contact with him, my father was still alive. I didn’t want to upset anyone in my family. But the idea of it excited me. And, I felt a sense of entitlement. Why not? If I had never known him in real life, than maybe I could create a fiction around him? I would be writing my imagined version of his early years in London. It would be fiction not real life, though inspired by the seed of fact. I wanted to be generous. To show him as a complex, and conflicted young man, in the competitive edgy London of the sixties.
Notes on Lewis Bell, the protagonist inspired by my father.
So that was how it all began. The very first draft of The Gravity of Love (then named Yesterday) was the story of Lewis Bell and his affair with his mistress, Marnie in sixties London. In this early version, Lewis was married, with a wife, and had two children, a boy and a girl. The story followed Lewis through one day when his old world came tumbling down because of his double life. The book was to go through many later versions. And was yet to discover Joy’s story, her world in Arizona, and her quest to find her birth mother in Ireland. This was because I wasn’t sure why I was telling the story. It was something I was yet to work out.
And then something else happened that changed everything. After years of wanting to find my sister, and two brothers, but having no information, a clue fell into my lap. A few months later I found them all. Moreover none of them knew about my myself, and my other brother. We were secrets! This incredible miracle ignited not just one spark, but many little fires. The next step was to meet my siblings. Afterwards, I was to infuse the writing of The Gravity of Love with a whole new meaning.
Noelle Harrison, 29th March 2018, Edinburgh.