My Real Children is my eleventh published book and my tenth novel. It was published Tor in the US and Corsair in the UK in summer 2014.. There is Italian edition (La Mie Due Vite which means “My Two Lives”) a Polish edition, a French edition Mes Vrais Enfants, and a Japanese edition. There is an audiobook. It won the Tiptree Award, the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award (as best Fantasy novel), and the American Librarian Association’s RUSA in the category of Women’s Fiction, and was shortlisted for their Stonewall Award. It is also nominated for the World Fantasy Award, the Sidewise Award for Alternate History, and the Aurora and the Sunburst Awards for Canadian genre fiction.
It’s an alternate history, in which a woman with dementia struggles to remember her two contradictory lives. Patricia made a choice in 1949 and thereafter not just her personal life but the worlds she lives in diverge. The chapters alternate between her life as Pat and her life as Tricia. It’s a book about life and love and choices and moonbases.
I had the idea for this book when talking to a friend of mine who is the same age as Patricia is, and who has memory problems. I was interested in writing two different alternate histories of the second half of the Twentieth Century, and also in writing a close-focused science fiction story that wasn’t about politics or war except in the ways those things affect everybody’s lives.
I wrote it between January 27th and April 21st 2013, in 28 writing days. I had a lot of help from my Livejournal correspondents on random hard-to-research facts like the weight of wheelchairs and models of cars.
This is the US back-cover text:
It’s 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. “Confused today,” read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know—what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don’t seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964, declining to run again after the nuclear exchange that took out Miami and Kiev.
Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War—those were solid things. But after that, did she marry Mark or not? Did her friends all call her Trish, or Pat? Had she been a housewife who escaped a terrible marriage after her children were grown, or a successful travel writer with homes in Britain and Italy? And the moon outside her window: does it host a benign research station, or a command post bristling with nuclear missiles?
Two lives, two worlds, two versions of modern history. Each with their loves and losses, their sorrows and triumphs. My Real Children is the tale of both of Patricia Cowan’s lives…and of how every life means the entire world.
“In My Real Children, there is a dizzying array of astonishments unfolding, a Chinese box of surprises. Once started, it is extraordinarily difficult to put this book down, even for dinner, even for bed.” Jane Yolen
“This one sneaks up on you: stabs from the corner of your eye when you least expect it. It amazes me a little, the ease with which such a quiet tale and such spare prose managed to engage my brain, boil my blood, and- ultimately- break my heart. Thank you, Ms. Walton, for showing me how it’s done.”Peter Watts.
“Such a wise book, about sweetness in sorrow, without any sentiment… It”s easy to write a sad book, but this one uplifts and sweetens even as it tears your heart to pieces. Astounding work, even by Walton”s incredibly high standards.” Cory Doctorow
All of this is rendered with Walton’s usual power and beauty, establishing firmly that both Patricias are valid, fully realized women with stories worth knowing. The alternate-history elements grow stronger as the stories progress, yet it’s this haunting character complexity that ultimately holds the reader captive to the tale.
Quill and Quire (Starred Review)
“Walton has created an SF story focused on characters and informed by the world around them. My Real Children is the rarest sort of novel – one that transcends genre. It is a book that, one surmises, will be eagerly reread as the years pass. “
“I know of few other authors who are so deft at evoking the complicated relationship between international politics and domestic dysfunction. No matter how outlandish the social context she’s built, however, Walton’s true strength lies in creating characters you come to know intimately — and whose lives you care about intensely, especially when they fall apart. You may find yourself in tears by the end of My Real Children, but you won’t regret a single second you spend engrossed in its pages.”
Publishers Weekly (Signature Review)
“It explores issues of choice and chance and destiny and responsibility with the narrative tools that only science fiction affords, but it’s also a deeply poignant, richly imagined book about women’s lives in 20th- and 21st-century England, and, in a broader sense, about the lives of all those who are pushed to the margins of history: the disabled, the disenfranchised, the queer, the lower middle class.”
“Walton’s undeniable skills in both character development and social extrapolation result in a novel which at its best is an epic of regret and redemption, and a wise meditation on what our lives mean, and what they might have meant”
“It would be hard enough just to write the story of the scope of a person’s life as movingly and vividly as Walton does here … so when she does so twice over, while subtly building two alternate histories of the world since the 1950s, it’s shockingly impressive.”
“My Real Children is a story of pure love without an ounce of sentimentality, infinitely wise about the human condition, parenting, and family. It changed the way I think about the very meaning of life. By playing Cowan’s two lives against each other, Walton has brilliantly illuminated something raw and true about where happiness comes from, and where it leads.”
“This much would be a powerful book on its own, but when paired with a speculative concept in which Patricia’s fate is inseparable from the fate of our world, it is breathtaking.”
“I keep wanting to say this is an elegant book, but that’s not enough to convey my meaning: that there isn’t a word wasted, that there is a deliberateness in its every moment and movement, no matter how small. “
“More than anything else, this is a book about the deeply human fear of time’s winged chariot.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Q 1: Your book made me cry! Is this normal?
A. I’m afraid so. It made me cry too. I suggest you have a gelato.
Q 2 What is gelato?
Q. Where can I get some?
A. Here is the gelato atlas.
Q. But this is terrible! I don’t live in any of those places!
A. You could move. Or you could buy a gelato maker.
Q What did Patricia do that changed the world?
A. Little things.
Q: But the worlds are so different?
A. Little things add up to big differences over time.
Q. What other things is this book like?
A. It has been compared to Sophie’s Choice, Samuel Delany, Alice Munro, Philip Dick, Ian MacEwan, George Alec Effinger, George Eliot, Gene Wolfe, Frank McCourt, Kate Atkinson, Christopher Priest, Jonathan Frazen, Megan Lindholm, Ian McEwan, A.E. Van Vogt, Terry Bisson, and Margaret Atwood.
Q, What do you think it’s like?
A. George R.R. Martin’s “Unsound Variations” and Ken Grimwood’s Replay. A little bit. And Sumner Locke Elliott’s The Man Who Got Away. And Marge Piercy. And J.M. Barrie’s Dear Brutus. Only not really. (The author is always the worst person to ask.)
Q Why did you nuke Miami?
A. I always nuke Miami.
Q. I was at one of your readings, and I really liked the music. What were the songs?
Q. Have you written anything else about Florence?