This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Lucy Atkins is an author and journalist. Her first novel, The Missing One, was published in January. She tells Novelicious the very personal reason why The Collins Robert Bilingual Dictionary changed her life.
This is going to sound a little odd, but the one book that has changed the course of my life is The Collins Robert Bilingual Dictionary.
My French is appalling, I am not a linguist. In fact, I have no particular interest in languages and I’m definitely not a dictionary obsessive. But that red, white and blue jacketed tome is my most important book. When I look up the verb To Ride, I find the names of all my childhood pets, including the hamsters. Under ‘round’ there’s my name; turn to ‘run’ there’s my sister; and to ‘sibling’ – my brother. Why? Because my mother is a lexicographer and the Collins Robert was the first dictionary she wrote – a huge success, still used widely, thirty-five years on.This book changed my life because it showed me that a woman could be both a mother, home with her kids, and work-obsessed, successful in the eyes of the outside world. The first edition took her years to write, and apparently when I saw it as a real book for the first time, I was puzzled. Until that moment, I’d thought ‘The Dictionary’ was a place in our house (my mother’s study).
The Dictionary taught me that a woman could be both a valued intellectual and a constant presence, a devoted hands on mum – there for us when we got home from school, making soup, forcing us to learn our times tables. I remember the day in 1978 when the local paper came to our house to photograph her holding up her book. I could see how proud she was of what she’d achieved and I was proud too. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, of course, but that big fat book would be the template for my own working life.
My mother went on to be a world-leader in Computational Linguistics and even now, aged 82, she’s language obsessed. Meanwhile, here I am, at home, writing books, making soup, making my children learn their times tables. Working from home sometimes drives me insane – I have a whole new level of respect for my mother now I have three children of my own. But I love the flexibility, and nothing beats that moment when I get my children off to school, close the door, make a cup of coffee and open my laptop to immerse myself in my book.
Recently my fifteen year old daughter came to the launch party for my novel, The Missing One. She saw me holding up my book and being photographed, and I wondered: what will she make of this in thirty years time? Without The Dictionary I’m not sure that my daughter would have seen me become a writer. She told me the other day that she wants to be a journalist. I can’t help but wonder whether The Dictionary is travelling down the generations too.