Do all daughters turn into their mothers?

Ellen's daughter

Ellen's daughter - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 Children

Sometimes I wonder if my daughter has inherited any of my personality traits.

She is quiet and introverted. I am loud and opinionated.

She plays by the rules. I do my best to test them.

She worries about everything. I gave up concerning myself about what other people think of me a long time ago.

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My thick skin protects me while she is vulnerable to every attack.

And as such her head rules her heart while I jump into everything I do without thinking of the consequences.

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She is beautiful, talented, wise beyond her years – and yet she lacks self-belief.

I, on the other hand, make up for anything I am missing with buckets of misplaced confidence.

We do not even share any of the same interests.

It’s funny isn’t it?

When you have a daughter you expect she will share your passions.

It’s that irrational and incontrovertible truth that is encoded in our culture: daughters turn into their mothers.

I love my little girl with fierce and proud maternal passion but I sometimes can’t fathom the scale of our differences.

Which explains why I was ridiculously delighted when she came home from school with an entry form for a creative writing competition.

Kyson Primary School is following in the footsteps of the BBC by asking pupils to pen a 500-word original story.

It can be about anything they like as long as it’s their own work.

“I’ve got loads of ideas,” she told me.

“Well I can’t wait to hear them,” I said. “I will even help you type it up.”

As a child I would spend hours and hours in my room writing.

It was my only talent in fact. I was never sporty. I was not a science scholar. I hated maths. So much so, that I still don’t know my times tables.

And I was rather hoping that – with two parents who are journalists – one or the other of my children would also have a love of words.

After spending a couple of hours chewing a pen, my daughter came to see me with her brainstorming.

“Right,” she said. “Here’s the first suggestion.”

I sat down with a cup of coffee to listen.

“So there’s this princess,” she began. “But she is cursed. Everything she touches turns to ice, frost and snow. So she runs away, unleashing eternal winter on the kingdom.”

“Hmmm,” I said. “Go on.”

“So she has this sister,” she continued. “And she braves the blizzard to find the princess.”

“This sounds like the plot of Frozen,” I said.

“Yes it’s quite similar,” she replied.

“Any other ideas?” I asked.

She outlined another synopsis.

This one was about an orphaned boy in a jungle who is raised by wolves and makes friends with a big bear and a panther.

“Like Jungle Book?” I asked.

“I suppose so,” she replied.

“You can’t just copy someone else’s work,” I told her. “You have to use your imagination.”

“But all the best stories have already been written,” she said.

“Ah but there are ways to use other people’s ideas to find your own,” I said.

Now I am not promoting plagiarism, but as Oscar Wilde once said: “Talent borrows, genius steals.”

The Grimm brothers’ fairytales have been told again and again. Roald Dahl even used them as a basis for his Revolting Rhymes.

And every single one of Shakespeare’s plays has been reworked.

West Side Story is just Romeo and Juliet. The film She’s the Man is Twelfth Night. Ten Things I Hate About You is the Americanised version of The Taming of the Shrew. Beauty and the Beast is Othello in reverse.

And Shakespeare aside there are other modern stories with a link to the past.

Bridget Jones’ Diary is much like Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Clueless is a retelling of Emma.

The Nutty Professor is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; The Rocky Horror Show takes inspiration from Frankenstein; O Brother Where Art Thou? is really Homer’s Odyssey; Pretty Woman is Pygmalion; and the theatre production Rent bears a striking resemblance to the opera La Boheme.

Taking a quote from another eminent scholar “if you want your children to be intelligent,” Albert Einstein once remarked, “read them fairytales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairytales”.

A sentiment I heartily agree with.

Listening to such stories loosens the chains of the imagination – and the sense that all kinds of things are possible.

In stories frogs turn into princes, witches fly on broomsticks, unicorns and mermaids exist and morals can be learnt.

And – as I pointed out to my daughter – children are far better at suspending their disbelief than adults are which makes the potential for creating a good yarn even greater.

“How shall I begin then?” she asked.

“Once upon a time is a good place to start,” I suggested.

And she was off.

A beautiful story with a complete absence of diversion or explanation, concerning a series of unquestioning cardboard cutout characters and a pursuit of justice.

Children have a profound and unshakeable belief that things have got to be fair and they like stories in which the good people are rewarded, and the bad punished.

If only real life was so deliciously uncomplicated.

My husband – who has just finished his first novel and is currently approaching agents in a bid for a publishing deal – was astounded.

“This is really good,” he said and she blushed.

“I just wanted to see if I could do it,” she replied.

And there it was – another quality she has that I don’t.

I stick to what I am good at. She sees setbacks as being there to overcome.

“So now we can enter your story on the BBC website and take it into school,” I told her.

“Don’t be silly,” she laughed. “I might win, and that would be embarrassing.”

Clearly she hasn’t inherited my competitive streak either.

Find me on Twitter @EllenWiddupRead more from Ellen here

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