A Manly Tear

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A friend of mine in California read an Advance Review Copy of Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper and told me how much he’d enjoyed it. ‘Did you shed a manly tear towards the end?’ I asked. I realise now that I should have said at the outset that though he lives in California and has a US passport this friend is originally from England. We’ve known each other since we met on Soc Culture British more than twenty years ago, so anyone who was around that place at that time will have a feel for the sort of relationship we have.
Anyway, he assured me that the bittersweet ending of Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper had brought no sadness to his breast and he went further to tell me that “manly” and “tears” were incompatible words. Men don’t cry.
Surely this can’t be right? I wrote Zappa’s Mam with a clear picture of my reader and as I typed the last twenty thousand words I was thinking, “You think you know where this is going. Don’t you? You think you’re reading a Happy Ever After/Boy Meets Girl/Boy Loses Girl/Boy Gets Girl tale. Don’t you? Well, my dear reader, do I have a surprise in store for you.” When I wrote the last line I thought, “If that doesn’t dampen the cheek of even the malest of men, I don’t know what will.” And now comes the message from California – California of all places – Men Don’t Cry.
I’ve written in the past on this blog about the story I read to pupils and parents from the stage of Benton Park Primary School when I was ten but that is not really where my desire to be a writer started. In my mid-teens I read Wuthering Heights and when I reached the end I was aware of a prickling at the back of my eyes. (No, not at the quality of the writing – it was my reaction to the story’s emotional impact).  I decided then that this was what I wanted to do. I don’t mean that I decided to write about people and their lives in a way that would tug at the reader’s heart-strings because fourteen year olds don’t think that way; what happened was that I realised for the first time how the written word could move the reader and I thought, “I want to do that”.
I still want to do it. And I’m not sure what all that California sunshine has done to my old friend’s humanity. Men don’t cry? Your child is ill, seriously ill, ill to the point of death and recovers – and you don’t cry? You watch a parent grow old and frail and the inevitable end comes – and you don’t cry? You’ve wanted for years to achieve something that has always seemed just beyond your capabilities but you worked and worked to study where you were going wrong and put it right and finally you get there – and you don’t cry?
I’m glad I’m not you.

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