Saturday, 13 August 2022

My grandmother inspired novel

A WOMAN from Henley has published her first novel loosely based on the life of her celebrity grandmother.

A WOMAN from Henley has published her first novel loosely based on the life of her celebrity grandmother.

A Sister For Margot by Emma Clark Lam is a family saga charting the fortunes of three women — a Forties actress, a housewife with career ambitions and an orphan.

Mrs Clark Lam, 39, of Vicarage Road, was inspired to write the novel by her grandmother Jean Morton, an actress and television presenter in the Sixties and Seventies.

Mrs Morton was one of the first television announcers on Associated Television and anchored ATV’s Midlands Newsday.

She achieved national fame as presenter of Tingha and Tucker, a children’s show featuring two koala bear glove puppets produced by Neighbours creator Reg Watson. She died in May, aged 91.

Although the story is fictional, Mrs Morton’s colourful life as an actress during the Second World War provided material for many of the scenes and her photograph appears on the front cover of the novel. Mrs Clark Lam, a former BBC journalist, said: “I had heard stories about her since I was a child but it wasn’t until I was older that I realised her experiences were so interesting.”

The novel includes one of Mrs Morton’s anecdotes from when she was performing in a play.

Mrs Clark Lam said: “My grandfather was on leave from the war and was in the audience but my grandmother didn’t know. He bribed an usher to let him go backstage to surprise her.

“She also told me about an air raid on the theatre when they had to sit tight inside.

“In the book I used this idea for when one of the characters’ daughter is travelling on a train and it is diverted to a siding because there is a bomb on the railway and she is stuck there for hours.”

Mrs Morton moved to Ibiza after retiring but maintained her interest in current affairs. Mrs Clark Lam, who used to visit her, said: “She would be talking to my teenage friend about how gorgeous Brad Pitt was. It was amazing that a 70-year-old was raving about him.

“She kept up with everything so she could relate well to young people. That was why I had such a good relationship with her.

“If you grow up with a personality like that, it’s such an influence and it’s partly what inspired me to write the book because I wanted to capture that.”

Mrs Clark Lam, whose mother also worked in TV as a production assistant, has lived in Henley for almost seven years after her husband William, 40, began working at Invesco Perpetual as a fund manager. They have two children, Natasha, nine, and Tristan, six.

Her experience of the town influenced her description of Solton, a fictional place in the novel.

She said: “I also looked at attitudes and how individuals can thrive in a community but at the same time can feel constrained by what society expects of them. Henley is like that — sometimes it brings comfort in how people help each other and other times it can be stifling.”

Mrs Clark Lam was also encouraged by the Henley Literary Festival and last year attended talks by Emma Freud, Michael Palin and Sandy Gall.

She said: “The festival is a great boon for any writers in the area and it’s great for anyone who likes literature.

“I’ve been every year since it started and I always come away feeling inspired and with renewed energy for what I was writing.”

It took 10 years for her to complete the book as she juggled writing with her job and motherhood but the death of her grandmother gave her the jolt she needed to finish it.

Mrs Clark Lam said: “I had never felt it was perfect enough but when my nana died it became my target to finish it.

“She read some of it as I was writing, including a lot of the stuff on the war to check its authenticity. Sadly, though, she never got to read the final version.”

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