Betty’s Mum’s Letters
After I had my first daughter, I decided to write her a letter, just in case anything ever happened to me. I remember staring at the sheet of paper and realising that words couldn’t describe the love I felt for this cross-looking, red, spotty baby. Around the same time, I watched a documentary about parents with terminal illnesses who create ‘memory boxes’ for their children. I started to imagine what a mum might write in letters to a daughter she knew she would never watch grow up. What stories would she tell? What messages about life would she want to share? Then I wondered how a teenager might feel reading these letters; I pictured a girl coming downstairs on her fifteenth birthday and seeing a letter from her ‘Dead Mum’ waiting for her. The girl became Betty and this image developed into Love Bomb.
Bettye Swann and ‘Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye’
Betty’s mum, Lorna, was a big fan of 60’s soul singer Bettye Swann. When I write, I always listen to music and as I was planning Love Bomb, Bettye Swann’s ‘Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye’ came on. It’s such a beautiful song that it always stops me in my tracks when I hear it. Betty’s not such a common name these days and it struck me that if Lorna was a fan of Bettye Swann then this might explain how Betty came to have it. By the time the song had finished, I’d created an entire 60’s girl-band back story for Lorna, and changed the ending of the book. This is one of the reasons I love writing! You never know what will happen next.
Although Bettye Swann sang the blues, her songs are infused with hope, making her music perfect listening for a teenager experiencing the highs and lows of first love.
Bill windsurfs at Spray Water Sports Centre in Eastbourne which is a real place where I have tried (and failed) to learn to windsurf several times. This is no reflection on the staff, who are brilliant, but is more to do with me being a coward. If you would like to recreate any of Betty’s experiences involving wetsuits, shoulders and lakes filled with swan poo, then get down to Spray and book yourself on to a beginners’ sailing or windsurfing course. For the full Love Bomb effect, you could even travel there on the Dotto Train!
Bill’s dog, Bubblegum
Any Adventure Time fans out there will know that Bill has named his dog after the lovely Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time. I am sure Betty would feel a strong connection to Marceline the Vampire Queen and there is a little bit of Finn in Bill. If you’ve never watched Adventure Time, then you really should. It’s totally math.
Dr. Martens, Bodyshop Dewberry perfume and being a teenager in the ’80s
I made Betty’s mum roughly the same age as me so that I would be able to include all my memories of being a teenager in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Like most teenager girls, I used to cover myself in one of two perfumes from Bodyshop: Dewberry or Fuzzy Peach. Basically, I walked around smelling like fruity sweets. I also wore DM’s with every outfit. My Nan would look me up and down, purse her lips and say, ‘You look lovely…except for those clumpy black boots.’
The Tampon Lady
When I was at secondary school, ‘The Tampon Lady’ came and talked to all the girls in assembly. I can vividly remember the horrified silence in the hall as she mimed putting one leg up on the toilet and showed us black and white drawings of ovaries on the overhead projector. One of the more curious things she told us was that taking a pet into the toilet when you first used a tampon would ‘help you relax’. Presumably, The Tampon Lady visited a lot of schools. How many girls actually followed this advice?
Betty, Love Bomb’s love-struck narrator, has a best friend, Bill, who owns a copy of ‘The Greatest Love Poems of All Time’. As Betty has just fallen head over heels in love with ‘hot vampire’ Toby she decides this book will help her to become ‘an expert on love’. Bill cherry picks lines of poetry for Betty and then explains them to her.
Love Bomb is sprinkled with quotations taken from some of the most beautiful love poems in the English language. I thought you might want to read the poems in full, so here they are:
She Walks in Beauty
By Lord Byron
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
When You Are Old
By W.B. Yeats
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
by W.B. Yeats
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
By William Shakespeare
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.