Dear Reader: a letter from Emma Curtis
I had to think long and hard about revealing the inspiration for One Little Mistake, or the moment in my life that provided the germ of the idea. It’s something I feel intensely guilty about, and for a long time, I kept it a secret from everyone – including my husband.
When we were first married, all we could afford was a one-bedroom flat on a busy main road. The baby slept in a cot wedged between the table and sofa in a corner of the front room by the window. At that time my husband was abroad a lot, staying away two to three weeks at a time, and though I hadn’t admitted it, I wasn’t coping with motherhood. If I tell you that the highlight of my day was watching Neighbours, you’ll understand how much I was struggling. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my baby – I was as besotted with him as anyone else. I think it was a combination of lack of maturity, shock at how my life had changed and being too embarrassed to ask for help.
Like Vicky in One Little Mistake, I desperately wanted to move to a more comfortable house so I registered with all the local agents. One morning the post came with the details of a house that looked perfect for us. It was unmodernised so we would just about be able to afford it. I rang up the agent.
I’ve never really understood what motivated me to do what I did that morning or forgiven myself. The words ‘what kind of woman does that?’ will always haunt me.
My baby slept solidly for an hour and a half every morning so I made an appointment and went out to view the house during his nap. I’ve always told myself it was only ten minutes, but realistically, I must have been out for over half an hour. When I got back he was standing up in his cot screaming his head off. Fortunately for me, the building was set back forty foot from a busy main road with trees in front, so no one else would have been able to see. I didn’t tell anyone, least of all my husband, but it was a huge shock and brought me to my senses. Soon after that, we moved to a more family-friendly area and life quickly changed for the better. I went from feeling anonymous and miserable, to being surrounded by women at the same stage as me and I made many good friends, with the result that I grew in confidence as a mother.
I’ll never forget or cease to feel guilty about that first year. Occasionally, I’ll remember what I did and the feeling of horror will stop me in my tracks. Anything could have happened and recently I found myself wondering what if it had – and that’s where One Little Mistake grew from. Vicky leaving Josh at home isn’t the crux of the novel, but it’s the catalyst for the downward spiral her life takes.
Nowadays there is so much more understanding and education around the ‘baby blues’ and post-natal depression, plus wide availability of support groups and websites on the Internet for young and new mothers that weren’t around when I was a first-time mum – such as those from the NHS, NCT and Mumsnet. I like to think that if these had been available in 1990 I wouldn’t have left my child alone that morning. No harm came to him that day, and it hasn’t affected him: my children have grown into lovely young adults, well-grounded and a delight to be with, and I like to think this is thanks, in part, to me. At some point, I shall have to forgive myself and let the guilt go.