“Jacqueline Winspear has created a memoir of her English childhood that is every bit as engaging as her Maisie Dobbs novels, just as rich in character and detail, history and humanity. Her writing is lovely, elegant and welcoming.”—Anne Lamott
The New York Times bestselling author of the Maisie Dobbs series offers a deeply personal memoir of her family’s resilience in the face of war and privation.
After sixteen novels, Jacqueline Winspear has taken the bold step of turning to memoir, revealing the hardships and joys of her family history. Both shockingly frank and deftly restrained, her story tackles the difficult, poignant, and fascinating family accounts of her paternal grandfather’s shellshock; her mother’s evacuation from London during the Blitz; her soft-spoken animal-loving father’s torturous assignment to an explosives team during WWII; her parents’ years living with Romany Gypsies; and Winspear’s own childhood picking hops and fruit on farms in rural Kent, capturing her ties to the land and her dream of being a writer at its very inception.
An eye-opening and heartfelt portrayal of a post-War England we rarely see, This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing chronicles a childhood in the English countryside, of working class indomitability and family secrets, of artistic inspiration and the price of memory.
|Soho Press, Incorporated
|5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
About the Author
Date of Birth:April 30, 1955
Place of Birth:Weald of Kent, England
Education:The University of London¿s Institute of Education
Read an Excerpt
About Me and Memories
Memories appear in flashes of light, in short scenes, in reflections that can make us laugh or bring us to tears. They might come in on a sneaker wave of grief, or be buoyed up from our past by a certain fragrance in the air, or a sound from afar. The essence of memoir, I suppose, is that it could better be described as “re-memory.” We don’t just look back at an event in our past; we are remembering the memory of what happened. It’s a bit like putting the laundry through two wash cycles.
The whine of a chain saw in the distance brings back autumn days working on a farm close to our home in England’s Weald of Kent. Mist hangs across the land like a silk scarf—not quite touching the earth, but not rising high enough to join a cloud. Sunshine filters through, grainy, as the shades of gold change with the waning day. And there it is, the whine of that chain saw. I remember, once, walking with my father across the fields close to their new home. Dad hadn’t quite settled—it would take him a long time to feel anything akin to the love he had for that old house at the end of a Victorian terrace where he and my mother had lived for over twenty-four years and raised two kids. As we walked that day we found a hop bine growing through the hedge, a leftover from the days when the field had been a hop garden. (The hop vine is always called a “bine” in Kent and Sussex, and hops are grown in a “garden” not a field.) My father pulled a couple of hops from the bine and crushed them between his hands, then brought his nose to his palms, his eyes closed. “My whole childhood is rushing before me,” he said. Some thirty years later I watched as my brother threaded dried hops through the one hundred red roses atop my father’s coffin. Our memories of childhood, too, were woven with the spicy fragrance of the hop gardens of Kent.
But the story really begins many years before, in London. And not the posh part.
We are, all of us, products of our family mythology. Stories are not only passed down, but nestled in every cell. When I thought about writing a memoir, I knew I had to write my parents’ story—because I am of them. Everything that happened in my childhood—every household decision, every peal of laughter and every sharp word snapped across the table—was underpinned by my parents’ attitudes to the world around them. Those attitudes were forged not only in their youthful experience of wartime London, but by a few postwar years, the years when they were uprooted from family and became—in the parlance of their time—gypsies.
But before I press the play button on that story, here’s something about me and memories—my first memory is of something that happened when I was six months old, or thereabouts. I distinctly remember the scene, though it lasted perhaps only a couple of minutes. No one told me about it because no one else was there, so this was not a matter of absorbing other people’s memories. The bird was there and I now believe he was a sparrow. It’s a fair bet—there are a lot of sparrows about. My memory is of being in my pram. At the outer periphery of my vision I can see the edge of the hood to the left, right and above. In front of me is the handle—way out in front of me. The covers must have been close to my chin, because at the lower edge of my vision there is a white blurring, as if a blanket had been pulled up against whatever the weather was doing. Weather is always doing something in England, and in the mid-1950s, whatever it was doing did not deter mothers from putting their babies outside, even as far away as the bottom of the garden. It was deemed good for us. It was probably also very good for mothers who needed a bit of peace and quiet.
My attention had been drawn to a bird as it landed on the handle. I know I focused on it before I reached out to try to touch the bird. I remember feeling frustration because I could not control the hand, so the fingers kept going in and out of focus as I opened and closed them trying to reach the sparrow. I failed, because my hand came down and hit me on the forehead—my babyish lack of motor control. I had no words to think, nothing intellectual to trouble my new brain—but I remember the physicality of frustration at not being able to reach that bird. Then the sides of the hood seemed to close in and the outside world was pushed back.
After I wrote that paragraph, I went through some old photographs until I found one of me at that age, snuggled up in my pram, and there it is, that big fluffy white blanket tucked almost to my chin.
I have a long memory. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I believe it has something to do with the accident—it was as if the shock did something to me that left me with more than physical scars, and after I recovered it seemed that events I might have forgotten were locked into my memory bank. On the other hand, I find it funny that I can remember details from very early childhood onward, yet for the life of me I can never find my keys once I’ve put them down, or recall whether I remembered to give the dog her thyroid pill—strange that I should have adopted a dog with a dodgy thyroid, a family affliction that defined much of my childhood.
What I remember of the accident—which happened when I was about fifteen months old—is this: I was surrounded by grown-ups who were standing beside me around the kitchen table. I felt as high as their knees. We had company—my Auntie Sylvie, Uncle John, and cousins Johnny, Larry and Martine, who was younger than me by six months, so she was probably crawling, but not toddling. I was wearing my new nylon dress—it might have been bought in London by my aunt, as nylon dresses for little girls were all the rage because they could be washed and dried quickly. I doubt I cared about the dress, but I loved tea and I remember I couldn’t wait to be given a cup of lukewarm, milky, sweet tea in my red mug. So I reached up to the table to grab the closest handle, which happened to be attached to my father’s enamel one-pint army mug—he’d held onto it after his army demob years before, because he liked his tea scalding hot and the metal kept it that way. I can still see that handle above me and my hand stretching toward it, my fingers opening and closing as I reached up, just as I’d reached toward the sparrow.
That’s the last I remember of the accident. My mother told me the tea was so scalding hot my nylon dress melted into my skin. My father tried to rip it off, then wrapped me in a blanket, and they ran from the cottage to the farm because the farmer had a car. We were living far off the beaten track, in a cottage in the midst of the Bedgebury Forest in Goudhurst, Kent. We had no phone, no car and no means of getting to the hospital. The farmer’s car had to struggle through mud with my father and uncle pushing, I was told, and by the time they reached the main road I was in convulsions, screaming and screaming and screaming.
I still have some scarring across my chest where the dress was pulled away, taking a goodly layer or two of flesh with it, and another on my ribs from a skin graft of some sort. I was shot up with penicillin, which my mother always said saved my life. When I left the hospital weeks later, I started to remember almost everything that came to pass from then on, and a few things from before the accident. Hardly an event happened that was not catalogued in my mind unless I made an effort to forget it. At times I worked hard at forgetting.